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June 15, 2007

A Brief History of Dropping In and Dropping By

by Lynne Conner

I know I'm setting myself up as the history geek in this conversation--but I just can't help pointing out yet another connection between present and past. Steven Tepper identifies an important truth about today's audiences: "People want convenience; they want to leave their options open; they want to 'drop in and drop by,' they want to be able to customize their play lists rather than trust someone else to curate their experiences." This is also an important truth about audiences of the past, who from the ancients and up through the 19th century consistently curated their own cultural experiences as a normal course of action. And, they did it without apology. In the prologue to his play The Brothers, the Roman playwright Terence (whom we revere today as among the greatest ancient comic playwrights) made a plea to his audience to for the gods-sake please stay for the whole play this time. He did this because during the first production of his play Mother-in-Law the audience left in the middle of the performance to go see a rope dancer and to watch the gladiators. We know that Elizabethan theatre-goers routinely moved from one playhouse to another over the course of a day--a little Hamlet at the Globe, a round of bear baiting next door at the sporting ring, a comic dance and a cup of ale at a tavern, topped off with yet another revival of the gloriously bloody fifth act of Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy at The Swan. And what about the first concert and opera audiences? It's the same story, as is pointed out in Susan Wollenberg and Simon McVeigh's Concert Life in Eighteenth-Century Britain: "An individual would often attend several theaters in an evening, arranging to see favourite scenes, players or singers or meeting with people in different halls and boxes . . It was not though obligatory to sit through it all."

Posted by lconner at June 15, 2007 7:59 AM


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