For my tenth birthday, my dad took me to see Annie. I remember loving the play, somewhat for the catchy songs, but mostly because my dad took me. So, when my friend asked me to go to see Annie, I immediately said, yes. We took our girls, made it down town, and waited for the play to begin.
Theater etiquette is important.
I didn’t think about this so vehemently, until tonight. The lights were down, and the play was about to begin. The people in front of us were standing and having a complicated conversation about where to sit. The logistics of the theater seats befuddled them. The teacher in me wanted to help them make a connection between the similarities between movie theater seating and theater seating. They needed context. I could have drawn a nice Venn diagram for a pictorial representation. I guess they were unable to match the numbers on their tickets with the numbers on the seats.
I figured they were a theater troupe planning to perform Annie in their small part of the universe. I won’t elaborate on how ill-advised it is to attempt replicate such a well-known play, because you like the song, The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow. Just sing it in your car or shower like the rest of the world, and save the twelve people in the audience (who are probably family of the actors) huge amounts of pain.
Sally Struthers plays Ms. Hannigan. For those who may not know who she is, she played in Gloria in All in the Family. She was also the spokesperson for “Feed the Children”. Google her if these references don’t ring bells. For whatever crazy reason, I like her. She is one of the 70’s sit com mavens still around. After the signature songs, and a few chuckles in the first act-the audience checked out.
People don’t understand intermission. It doesn’t mean go to Burger King, eat, and leisurely make your way back to the theater. Because that is what I believe happened to roughly twenty percent of the audience. WHILE THE ACTORS WERE PERFORMING the following events took place:
- 5 people shuffled in front of us (backsides facing us).
- Someone near us took flash photos. My nine-year old overheard the conversation about the flash not being on, so the person turned on the flash.
- Cell phones illuminated the theater. People were texting. They spent $70+ to go to the theater, and they text.
- Another cadre of late-comers bungled their way through the row in front of us. They fell on each other, into the seats, and laughed.
- The woman behind me (who wasn’t there for the first act) was reprimanding whomever was behind her. She was saying how RUDE he was being. She was acting as if she were at home, in her barcalounger.
I spend a lot of time in our community theater. When I work box office, I don’t even let audience members bring water into the theater. My friend told me that was militant. I want people to respect our theater. In my mind, banning water is a start. Our smaller audiences are infinitely more respectful than the hoards of people in the Annie audience. I know, our audiences are comprised of actors, playwrights, board members, or family of the actors. But audiences have to start somewhere? Right?
We work with elementary-aged children. One of the first things we teach in camps is how to be a good audience member. When my friend and I teach our drama club at school, we don’t tolerate students talking while others perform. It isn’t a matter of being trained to be respectful during a performance (or any other like circumstance). It is the simple idea of respect. As a result, our drama club students are supporting one another by listening, and not talking during rehearsals.
I felt, for a passing moment, that my efforts to promote performing arts were futile. If adults can’t sit through Annie, then how am I to get them to come to a play written by a local playwright? I know, Annie isn’t everyone’s favorite play. But it is nostalgic, and that means something. And if you pay to go, it signifies you want to see the play.
Sitting through a play can be difficult. There is no touch screen to fast-forward to the next act. There is no playlist that lets you pick the songs you want to hear. There is no device to record the play for a later time. There is no app for any of that.
I think my friend was waiting for me to go all teacher on everyone. I wanted to, but then I would be adding to the demise of the theater. Plus, when Annie came out in the red wig and dress; I was transported to my tenth birthday. So, not much really mattered at that point. One note-they could update the wig.