Saturday, January 16, 2016

Six Rules For Attending a Public Performance

I went to see a play at the Actors Guild of Parkersburg last night. I won't talk about the play itself because as soon as I finish posting this blog I'm going to be writing a review of it for ClutchMOV. I'll let you know as soon as it's published so you can read it there. But the event motivated me to write about something else. I hesitate to do this because I hate to come off as an old crank, but I just think something needs to be said about the crumbling decay of civil behavior in our culture.
I don't mean the lack of civility in public discourse. Enough has been written about whether people are too easily offended by others' words and whether Donald Trump is a breath of fresh air or just one more loud-mouthed kook. No, I'm talking about the simple civility of knowing how to behave in public, more specifically at public events such as plays and concerts.
boxing, glove, fighting, punching, girl, woman, guy, man, fedora, hat, people 
As the play started last night, I actually had a hard time hearing the actor onstage over the conversations that continued for a good minute or two after the curtain went up. It was also quite evident that no special lighting was really needed since the entire audience was lit up by the cell phones that people had just been told to silence and put away. Speaking of which I counted three separate phones going off during the show.
Let me say at this point that this particular play sort of lent itself to audience participation in that it was quite raucous and zany, with the actors often breaking the fourth wall and talking directly to us, but the sad fact is it wouldn't have mattered if that had been true or not--the audience would still have behaved  boorishly. I know this from years of attending plays and concerts in the area. Just go to the PHS Acappella Chistmas concert if you don't believe me. And I don't mean the student performance. No, I mean the evening concert, where the audience, at least ostensibly, knows how to behave. People like me, who look forward to the emotionally transporting nature of this event, walk away frustrated and angry every single time  because of the crying babies, lit and often ringing cell phones, people wandering in and out doors and up and down aisles in the middle of songs, talking, laughing, constant coughing--I could go on.
I fear I may be preaching to the choir here, if you'll pardon the cliché, but I just feel like it needs to be said. There are, or at least there used to be and still should be, rules for civilized behavior at a performance:
  • If you're at a concert or play and it's the middle of a song or scene, you just DON'T GET UP AND WALK AROUND, barring a medical emergency. Getting up and moving around disturbs the experience of everyone around you.
girl, hiking, trekking, walking, backpack, woman, people, wood, logs, coast, lake, water, trees, forest, woods, nature, adventure, fitness, outdoors
If you feel the need to take a walk,
consider a setting such as this
rather than in a theater mid-song.
  • Keep your CELL PHONE SILENT AND IN YOUR POCKET. That includes you parents who feel it's necessary to video record every living second of your child's life. Here's a novel idea: actually experience those moments live rather than busying yourself recording them and blinding all the people around you with the dazzling light of your television-sized phone screen.
iphone, camera, picture, photography, technology, mobile, lights, dark, screen, hands, blurry
My view at about a bazillion
concerts over the years.
  • Again barring emergency, JUST DON'T TALK. Your running commentary may be just flippin' hilarious to your seatmate, but it makes the people around you wish they knew how to actually perform the Vulcan neck pinch.
can, string, talk, speak, yell, hand, mouth, teeth, man, guy
An actual person at the play I
attended last night.
  •  NO BABIES. I love babies, I really do. Just ask anyone. But there is simply no excuse for bringing an infant to a concert or play. Get a sitter or just don't go.

bike, bicycle, cyclist, baby, child, kid, mother, woman, people, park, path, trees
Unlike a concert or play, this is a
wonderful place to take a child.

  • NO DISEASE SPREADERS. Again, I'm sympathetic to the fact that your child or friend or husband or whoever may be in that choir, band, or play up there, but what are you doing disturbing everyone and spreading germs? If you know there's a good chance you'll start coughing, don't go to the concert or at least sit right next to a door so you can minimize the damage. And if there's even the slightest chance you could be contagious, DO NOT GO!

    lemon, tea, cup, mug, sick
    If you're sick, stay home and do this
    rather than go to a play and share your
    germs with everyone else.
  • Finally, and this one will cause all the previous five bullets to be pretty much unnecessary: THE RULES APPLY TO YOU. You aren't above them. You aren't special. It's not about you. I'm not sure how many other ways I can think of to say it, but I'm pretty sure those cover it.


  1. Can't say I disagree with any of these.

  2. Can't say I disagree with any of these.

  3. I'd like to add: Don't wear cologne or perfume. Many people suffer with hyper-reactive airway diseases as well as asthma and/or COPD. Not only will your Eau d'Smelle' cause a coughing fit that might last through the entire concert, it well can cause serious-up-to-fatal breathing difficulties.

  4. I would whole-heartedly agree on all counts, including Ginger's. Even if you don't have asthma or COPD, too much cologne or perfume can be rancid! As for the babies, leave them at home. I have 2 children of my own; and, when they were little, there were simply things that I missed out on because they were not the proper venue for a crying infant or a fussy, bored toddler. Forfeiting those things for a time is to be considered when deciding whether or not to have children - period. Where has all the respect gone???

  5. I would also like to add that a lot of this behavior isn't just distracting to an audience. The actors on stage (who are working their behinds off in their efforts to entertain you) can also be very distracted by these things. To the point where it could disrupt their concentration and put them off their game! As one of the actors in THE 39 STEPS I can't thank you enough for saying all of this and I am just left to wonder which performance you attended as we had all of these things happen throughout our opening weekend. So sad. As the sing in CHICAGO THE MUSICAL, "...whatever happened to CLASS?"

    1. I was there on opening night. And I'd like to say that you guys were amazing, especially considering the rudeness of some of the folks in the audience. That one lady was so loud that one of you actually responded to her, so I know it had to be a distraction.

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  9. Years ago, during a performance of THE GREENBRIER GHOST, at Greenbrier Valley Theatre in Lewisburg, a lady's cell phone went off during the blood-curdling-scream-filled murder scene. The lady answered the call, told the caller she couldn't talk right now in a loud voice (scream, scream, scream, strangle, strangle, strangle in the background) and then she hung up on them. Of course, the person who had called thought someone was being killed or there was otherwise an emergency, so they immediately called back. She just let it ring.

    1. Thank you for sharing this. It's is exactly the kind of behavior I'm talking about. Someone made a snarky comment on Facebook about my post, saying that it was a dumb thing to write since everyone knows better than to talk during a performance. But the sad reality is that many people really don't know better. I'm genuinely hopeful that the readers of my blog who are guilty will see themselves in it and learn to be more thoughtful.

      On a related note, I was in the audience at a play performed by WVU-Parkersburg, when someone's phone rang in the audience. And rang. And rang. When the lout finally answered it, he carried on a normal conversation. He didn't cut it short. He just gabbed away like he was at home alone.

  10. I've said all of these things after every performance/concert that we've been to the last few years especially. I am guilty of taking video with my phone at concerts my kids in...sorry...but I won't be doing again since I had to delete the one song is did get due to the overriding conversation going on behind me! I don't get it! You can't teach class!! Thanks for saying what many of us have have thought. I certainly hope that the people who NEED to read it recognize themselves and heed the advice.

    1. I hope so too! Unfortunately, based on how this trend seems to be getting worse, I fear that the guilty parties simply won't see themselves in this or just won't read it. I hope I'm wrong.

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  12. I'd also have to add that if you're taking children (of any age) to a play or concert, make sure they are mature enough to sit through it. I went to a performance of The Addams Family Musical put on by the Actors Guild, and was seated by a 12 or 13 year-old boy that constantly talked and fidgeted throughout the performance, bumping into me every few seconds. What makes it even worse is that in the row in front of us, four younger children (ranging from ages 5 to 10)were better behaved.

    1. Definitely true! And no, if your child needs a bright-screened phone or tablet to keep him/her distracted, that's not sufficient.

  13. It was a great performance. As usual, the Guild and its actors did a very good job. I was there Sunday afternoon and did not notice any bad phone etiquette during the performance but have in the past.