The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

September 26, 2009

The Producers = Good Stuff; Theatre Etiquette = Seriously Disappointing

It was so nice to have a date with my husband last night.  It is the rare Friday night when Bob isn’t doing the doctor thing in the ER (curing diseases, saving lives, blah, blah, blah), so tonight he got to choose which of the three local theatre productions we would see after our visit to Hunter Gatherer for what is, no contest, the best hamburger in town.  Seriously, what does Joe put in those burgers that makes me sigh so much when I’m eating them?  Bob’s choice was The Producers at Workshop Theatre for our Friday night date.  For one thing, Barry Sparks had tipped me off that this production offered one of the best casts the city has seen in some time, and when Barry says that, I listen.  And he wasn’t wrong. 

First of all, you have to know what you’re going into here.  We’re not talking Elizabethan English.  Remember the camp fire scene in Blazing Saddles when Slim Pickens served his crew of cowpokes a big ol’ mess of beans for dinner?  And remember the sound effects that ensued soon after dinner was done?  Well, if you thought that was offensive then you might not like The Producers, given that Mel Brooks is responsible for both bits of theatrical genius.  But if you thought it was offensive AND funny, then you’re in the right line.

Workshop Theatre’s production of The Producers was strong on cast, music, set and costuming.  It did as much as anyone can expect with what Mel Brooks has to give.  While there really wasn’t a weak link to be found in the cast, two people stood out last night with stellar, professional performances — Kevin Bush in the role of Leo Bloom, and Kyle Collins playing Franz Liebkind.  Both of their performances made me comment several times throughout the night that we could easily be watching them in one of the kitschy off-Broadway theatres in NYC’s West Village.  They were both true to their characters, delivering the kind of almost-over-the-edge camp a comedy like The Producers requires.

Unfortunately, while our theatre experience wasn’t ruined by some of the off-stage events of the night, it was seriously hampered.  I try not to go negative when it comes to local arts — my philosophy being that there are enough truly anti-arts advocates out there just waiting for critics to deliver them ammunition they can use to argue against the cost of the arts to schools and the government, at large.  But I’m not complaining about the arts here, I’m perturbed with the arts patrons, so I hope you’ll pardon my whining.

First, texting.  It is bad enough when students at USC text during plays and performances — but when the adult woman sitting beside me continuously reads texts throughout the show, shining her lighted phone screen like a torch in my eyes, there is absolutely no excuse for that. 

Next, getting up mid-show and leaving the theatre is no less than poor etiquette, but still the kind of thing that I imagine sometimes must happen.  Someone has a tickle in their throat and rather than disturb other patrons throughout the performance, they choose to disturb them once and take their leave.  Or someone else begins to feel ill and quietly excuses herself with as little disturbance as possible.  But last night, there were a good half dozen people who chose to make their row mates stand to allow them to leave and then — get this — stand to allow them to return to their seats later in the show. And guess who the person was who set last night’s trend?  Texty woman in the seat beside me.   And at first, she didn’t even bother to leave the theatre to take care of her urgent matter.  She actually went to the back and stood with her voice projected against the wall and took her cell phone call while the actors on the stage continued with their performance.  (I hope it was my dirty look that sent her out  the door.)   

I don’t know how the information can be gotten out there — we obviously cannot count on common sense — but somehow we must educate our fellow patrons on the proper behavior at a theatrical performance.  To begin with, no texting.  Ever.  It is rude, first and foremost, and it is distracting to other theatre goers and, I suspect, potentially to the actors themselves.  Next, if you absolutely must leave your seat — then leave it.   But in doing so you have unfortunately relinquished your right to sit down for the remainder of that act.  You may retake your seat after intermission.  But to ask other folks to either stand so you can retake your seat, thereby blocking other people’s views as well as interrupting their enjoyment of the play yet again, or to allow you to bump and bustle them while you mangle their toes and crush their purses with the extra pair of feet you are introducing to their row space — that, my friend, is not acceptable.

So folks, either pass the word or pass the dirty looks when unacceptable behavior is displayed in our audiences.  We create the theatre culture that our city will be known for — let’s up the sophistication level a bit so we can all enjoy a culture of which we can also be proud.  (In the meantime, if one of the good people from Workshop Theatre could squirt a little oil on that squeaky back door, that would help matters immensely.)

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