Shuttling 16 high school students around New York City for the summer may not seem like fun, but I have to say it’s a blast. I’m currently working as a teaching assistant and resident advisor at a musical theatre program for teens, and it’s been a rewarding and eye opening experience. Over each three-week session, we take the campers to six Broadway shows, which I must say is a pretty nice perk. Now, some of these shows are great and some of them are, well, not so great. And yet somehow, at every show, the audience sends the cast off with a standing ovation. Now, I realise that the “standing ovation rant” is a hot topic— Ben Brantley wrote an excellent article on the subject just a few months ago—but I wanted to add my own voice to the throng.
Please, for the love of all that is Sondheim, can we put an end to the madness! Not every show deserves an SO. A standing ovation should be saved for the Jerusalems of this world; the Gypsys, the Normal Hearts, the Melba Moores in Purlie – those performances that you will never forget because they have changed you in some way and left you scraping your jaw off the floor. When you leave the theatre humming the tunes and immediately rush out to get the cast recording and then spend the next month listening to the show on repeat, then you get to stand and cheer. When you see a performer bring new light to a piece that you’ve seen thousands of times, then you can jump out of your seat. If the piece actually makes you want to do something different with you life, feel free to leap into the air. Otherwise, just sit on your bum!
According to Brantley, who is a much more seasoned British theatergoer than I, the standing ovation “epidemic,” as he calls it, is not as widespread in the UK. And I have to say that when I studied abroad in London, I did notice that audiences weren’t as quick to stand. So, many of A Younger Theatre’s British readers may not even know that this illness is spreading throughout the United States. And my thanks to you for keeping your expectations high!
Brantley offers some excellent reasons for why this phenomenon exists in Broadway theatres. First of all, it’s a chain reaction. If someone near you is standing during curtain call, you feel obliged to stand with him or her. No one wants to be the horrible grinch who just couldn’t bother to get up from his or her seat. However, I dare audiences to be that person! Keep your standards, even if others are not willing to.
Another reason Brantley gives for why audiences give it all away, is that it makes them feel like the show was worth the ticket price. And with Broadway tickets now costing an arm and a leg, I can understand why patrons want to feel like they got their money’s worth. However, not giving a standing ovation does not mean that the show was not good. It doesn’t even mean that the show was not great! It simply means it wasn’t as great as that other show that you gave a standing ovation to.
As an actor, I am never offended if audiences stay seated at the end of the show. On the contrary, I feel cheated when I get a standing ovation that I know I didn’t earn. If we all stick to our standards, then standing ovations will begin to actually mean something again. Or at least something other than that someone got on a stage somewhere, said some lines, and walked off. That should not a standing ovation make.
If you are an American reader of A Younger Theatre and would like to contribute to the AYT USA blog series, please contact blogs[at]ayoungertheatre.com.
Image credit: Pete Prodoehl.