This week in her continuing journey towards building an artistic life, Helen explores the dichotomy between her feelings as an actor and those as a theatregoer.
As an actor, I feel it’s a privilege to take audience members on a journey (and perhaps even “rehearse them for their lives” as one teacher described it to me). That privilege stands no matter who the audience member is, how he found himself at my show, and what he takes away. I am ever hopeful about my congregation, the audience members.
But as a theatregoer, I usually want to punch those fellow congregants in the face.
Watching live theatre has always been a venerated experience for me, whether it be Waiting For Godot or Legally Blonde. I may not be moved by every performance, but hey — some sermons are more life-changing than others. But I would never dream of talking or texting during a live performance, and I have very little patience for people whose experience at the theatre spills over into mine.
A few weeks ago, I was in New York, sitting at a fantastic performance of Peter and the Starcatcher. I was so engrossed in the make-believe onstage that I almost didn’t notice the group of high schoolers seated on all 3 sides of me and my husband, their chaperone seated in front and completely oblivious. When they started to whisper to one another about upcoming plot points, I lost it. The actor in me was happy that they were engaged in the performance, but the audience member in me was doing everything she could to keep from going all Linda Blair on them.
At intermission, we moved. But as intermission closed, I cringed to see a woman in front of me return to her seat with a drink (the now-ubiquitous Broadway sippy cups, sometimes tied into the production with a logo’d cup and/or themed drink specials). It was obviously not her first, as the admittedly-hilarious Act II opener left her literally cackling and gasping for air through the entire next scene, which was quiet and serious in nature.
I’m not a teetotaler by any means. I understand producers’ incentive to sell overpriced drinks — Once has even turned Broadway drinking into a plot point by putting a working bar onstage. But it’s all fun and games until the orchestra level gets bathed in drunken audience-member sick during a performance.
I’ve even witnessed fellow actors be terrible audience members: at my summer program’s culminating scene share, I saw multiple actors-cum-audience members surreptitiously thumbing their phones, texting and checking emails. I did a terrible job hiding my disgust as I quietly requested they put their fucking phones away.
I am grateful for the opportunity to share stories with people, and I begrudgingly understand producers’ desire to pack the theatre full of all types. But if I ever have the chance to man my own theatre company, I may very well have rules of etiquette a la the Alamo Drafthouse.
Amen to that.
Earlier this year I was at one of the Bay Area’s most reknowned theatre festivals (featuring writers ‘Pub folks would know very well). One of the worst audience experiences of my life came when the audience member directly beside me would NOT turn off her new digital device.
Since then, I’ve had repeated conversations over the year about tolerance levels in regards to audience disruption. Personally, my level of tolerance goes down as the age of the disruptive audience member goes up. I don’t presume to know a person’s upbringing, but there’s a certain age level at which you should just damn-well know better.