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I had an experience this evening that was, perhaps, the most shocking of my theatergoing career. It had nothing to do with what was going on onstage. (Incidentally, that was Larry Loebell's new play, House, Divided, which had a few issues, but was otherwise a rather complex and interesting story. But I digress.)

In what might be the most startling display of audience misbehavior ever, a few moments after the play began, the woman next to me opened her bag, took out some string, and proceeded to FLOSS HER TEETH. ALL OF THEM. I'm quite sure everyone reading this blog has gritted their teeth (but not flossed them) while a show's climactic moment was deflated by someone's salsa ringtone, but this? 

Are people so divorced from the communal nature of theater that when forced to take in entertainment outside their homes, they just dissociate and go on as though padding around their living rooms in their underwear? Maybe this alienating effect is compounded by a steady diet of formerly private behavior turned shameless public display via blogging (ahem) and reality tv. Whatever, it's gross.

Do you have a comparable story? Could one possibly exist? If so, bring it. At this point, I believe anything's possible.

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May 28, 2008 9:45 PM | | Comments (15)

15 Comments

A few appalling acts I've witnessed, in no particular order:
1. At the now-defunct Brick Playhouse (80 seats), a woman answering her cell in full voice and leaving the theater by the main door -- which was essentially on stage -- chatting away obliviously and almost knocking over an actor making an entrance through the same door.
2. Knitting through a play at Act II Playhouse (130 seats).
3. A guy at InterAct (where the flossing occured) using his cellphone as a flashlight; I think he was a student taking notes, opening and shutting it regularly through the play.
4. High school students at a student matinee of JB at Villanova U. years ago throwing pennies at the stage during a tricky, trippy scene with numerous blackouts; afterward, in the actors' post-show discussion, a cast member gave them a blistering dressing-down.
5. A family of four at McCarter's smaller theater space for the stripped-down My Fair Lady bringing a big bag of snacks from WaWa: candy, pretzels, sodas, deli sandwiches, everything that makes noise! They dropped all the wrappers on the floor, just like in a movie theater (who decided that cinema floors are trashcans, anyway?). About a dozen of us descended on the poor house manager at intermission, and she bravely kicked them out.
6. This one I didn't witness, but it was a legend in my high school drama club: Bonnie, a very strong singer (and outspoken critic), attended another school's production of Hello, Dolly and didn't care for the lead. When her frustration boiled over, she stood and sang over the actress, full voice.
That's just a few of literally thousands of annoyances great and small inflicted by oblivious audience members ...

You're joking, right?

This is all too petty, if she wants to floss her teeth why ever shouldn't she. It's such a nonsense that it's speading germs -and it doesn't make noise and you shouldn't be looking at her, you should be looking at the stage. What is it with people who have no idea how to tolerate the behaviour of others.

I suppose, to Monica, that was perfectly respectable behavior. She's used to more extreme examples of impropriety.

My first theatre-bad-behavior experience was when I was at a performance of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and the woman sitting besid me proceeded to take out her walkman and listen to her own music very loudly during the performance. (This well before Merce did the ipod piece where this sort of behavior is in fact part of the piece.) When I asked her to turn down her music, she was genuinely surprised that it was a problem.

My worst theatre going experience was when the women sitting directly in front of me at The Joyce Theatre took out her knitting right when Stephen Petronio began his solo and she proceeded to clack away throughout the performance. When the piece ended and I asked her to stop and told her that what she was doing was very disrepectful to the performers she got all up in my face and told me that the dancers were her friends. To top it off, she was sitting beside Monica Lewinsky and they proceeded to make jokes about how I'd asked her to stop knitting and how she wanted to stab me with her knitting needles. Charming young lady.

Got one for ya. I worked on a show a few years ago when an audience member's cell phone rang mid-performance. Irritating, but common enough, right? Well, this person not only answered her phone, but shuffled off away from the audience and INTO THE STAGE WING where actors were standing waiting to make an entrance to explain to the caller that she was watching a play and couldn't talk. I think she was pretty horrified to find herself backstage, but she just kept standing there talking about how horrified she was to the person on the phone and finally, when she hung up, decided it was just better to stay hiding backstage and let the actors navigate around her until intermission than to find her way to her seat (or even out a back door). She assured them that she was really enjoying the show, though.

I was a performance of "Frozen" at a regional theatre in Boston. In the play, one of the characters smokes throughout the play. This info was posted in the lobby and in the program. During the first act, a woman two rows behind me in the orchestra section made audible gasps, harumphs and other irritated noises each time the actress lit a cigarette. Near the end of the first act, when the actress lit another cigarette, the audience member SHOUTED, "Put it out!" to the actress, nearly stopping the play. Moments later, the act ended. As houselights came up, I approached the woman and, surrounded by fellow audience members, proceeded to reprimand her for her disruptive behavior. Regardless of her defense of being bothered by the smoke and her husband's remarks about how smoking causes cancer, I informed that her inappropriate interruption was more offensive to her fellow paying audience members and especially the cast. A nice little round of applause from my fellow audience members confirmed that, despite any of our issues with smoking, we were together in this. I explained that if she was that unhappy, I'm sure the theatre would refund her tickets. She and her husband left at intermission. When I saw the actress after the show (who was a friend), I cheered her in the lobby with a loud and affectionate, "Put it Out!" The story has become somewhat of a funny, wry anecdote in Boston.

I had nothing to contribute until last night when I attended a performance at one of DC's most (widely perceived) hallowed halls of culture. Two women who ended up sitting next to me (thanks Fate!) not only arrived extremely late--we were about 20 minutes into the performance--but then chatted their way to their seats and proceeded to giggle and whisper and make it very clear through numerous, audible "oh gawd"s that they didn't like anything they were seeing. I did not, as I was tempted to do, announce, "Some of us are working here!"...and to their credit neither did the performers.
All the more striking because they were significantly worse behaved than the high school students making up the numerous rows behind us.

Is this Cosmopolitan?

Let's share other experiences. Once an Elephant belched on me, and he hadn't brushed his teeth. Fancy, the nerve, I'd come to look at him.....

Last week, I sat at Broadway's Music Box watching Tracy Letts' August: Osage County. In the third act, I heard the unmistakable tinkle of iPod earphones. They were faint, heard mostly through the quieter sections of the play (you know, when the characters are recovering from verbally bashing each others' brains out). But it stopped and started several times. I glanced back several times (as did the people sitting next to me), but couldn't detect anyone happily bopping their heads to the beat. It is possible that someone bumped their purse and turned on their iPod by mistake, but since it stopped and started several times, I think that's unlikely.

It's funny, moms are notorious for that sort of thing, and since we most often see shows on opening night, the house is always full of them. I'll bet her daughter would have been mortified if she knew. Every now and then a critic will devote a whole column or feature to uninvited audience participation, but somehow cellphones still ring, candy still gets unwrapped, and dental hygiene is still practiced.

Yes, I can imagine it vividly, since I was sitting right next to her and trying to avoid them! Ick.

Must have been the same woman who, once upon a time at small black-box theater in Washington, D.C., noisily consumed a significant portion of a pizza -- while sitting in the front row.

Then she curled up for a nap.

Cell phones seem to be my worst experience...that is until I heard about the teeth flossing. Yikes! Any personal hygiene in a public location is not only rude, it's also highly unsanitary. Can you imagine the little flecks of micro bacteria landing all over the poor people in around her?!

At a production of Tales of Hoffmann at a regional opera company, just as we got to one of the big soprano arias, the lady next to me took out her phone, dialed a lenghthy number (each digit beeped), greeted someone, and held the phone up during the entire aria. During the applause, she said adios and put the phone away like nothing had happened. All around her were shocked and distracted by this behavior. Turned out it was the soprano's mother, broadcasting the aria home to papa. I also recently caught some young choristers broadcasting to friends via phone during a famous mezzo's aria in a sitzprobe. People don't seem to get how obtrusive and disrespectful such behavior can be, and it is likely to get worse...

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