Friday, May 8, 2009

Stand Up for Your Rights

I recently returned from a trip to the big apple for a whirlwind weekend that ended in a blow-out concert at Joe's Pub.

While I was there, I took advantage of the opportunity to see a couple shows - both of which are nominated for a Tony Award - 33 Variations and Next to Normal.

Next to Normal, if you don't know, is somewhat of a sensation on the b'way, called "brave and breathtaking" by Ben Brantley of the New York Times, who compared the score to Spring Awakening.

So, I was all too willing to get to the theatre at 8 am and wait four hours in the rain and cold to get a front row ticket to see Aaron Tveit in nothing but his underwear.

Unfortunately, in the end, I didn't care for the show. In my opinion, Next to Normal was a so-so show with terrible direction (direction that is curiously absent-from-mention in the review...) (To be fair, I also thought 33 Variations, which I did care for, was a so-so show with WONDERFUL direction.)

Okay - so there I am, 2 hours later, not particularly impressed with the performances or the show in general, sitting in the front row, and the lights go down for the last time. The audience erupts with applause and jumps to its feet (remember, they've all been told by somebody that this is a b'way sensation!) I, being someone who takes his responsibility as an audience member very seriously, decide that this musical did not merit thunderous applause at full height. So I sat there, in the front row, smiling and applauding politely.

And my show companion, after we left the theatre, told me how embarrassed he was that I would humiliate myself by not standing. He also told me that my career in the theatre could potentially be hindered if anyone of any importance ever saw me not standing (when the majority of the audience stood.) Blacklisted, is essentially how he put it.

For what? For not enjoying a show? No, no - not even that - for NOT STANDING. He painted a scenario for me, in which, some fellow writer or actor would see me not standing, scoff and call me a jerk, and then proceed to call Hal Prince to complain that I was such a jack-off, after which Hal would refuse to work with me and my carreer would spiral downward from there, and all because I was being a pompous asshole.

I asked him what if I had sprained my ankle earlier that day, or seriously injured my knee? What if I had been moved to tears and couldn't force myself to move from my seat because of how overwhelmed I was by the emotional performances? Now who's the asshole? Me - or the fellow writer who thought it his place to call Hal Prince behind my back and spread unneccessarily bitter rumors?

For me - here's the bottom line: Apparently, according to my friend, in order to save face in this business, I'm not entitled to my own opinion. Regardless of how intelligently I can speak about what I did and did not enjoy, at the end of the show, I'd better be standing. Because...because why? It's broadway. It's a new show. People put in the time and effort to put it on. Ben Brantley said I should. I don't know, honestly.

Before, a "Standing O" was validation, a sign that the audience, each person individually, decided this was great. Now, it's a fiercely political move, that seems to have nothing at all to do with the show you just saw, but more to do with how you look having just watched the show you just saw - and if you find yourself in the audience, remember to simply follow suit, and check your bags, your coats, and your opinion at the door.


Kim said...

I'm with you on this one. I sometimes feel awkward when I don't stand up, but if I don't think the show deserves it, I don't give the big O. I just don't like how it's become almost automatic for audiences to give a standing ovation at the end of a performance, and I think it's mostly peer pressure. I'm a traditionalist, I guess, and I think you should only stand if you feel so moved. Your friend is nuts.

BT said...

haha. My friend is RSO. :)

Kim said...

I had a sneaking feeling...RSO, if you're reading this, hi. And if we ever see a show together and I don't stand up, well, we can spar.