If you've gone to the theatre lately, you may have noticed a phenomenon neverbefore experienced in theatre history - every single play, every one without fail, is a true masterpiece of writing, directing, and acting. Or at least, that is what I could conclude from the sheer overwhelming number of standing ovations I've seen over the past few years. Every player is a unique talent, every move on stage is sheer perfection, and every script a true masterpiece. Except...no.
Standing ovations should be, must be, a rarity if they are to have any meaning at all. If you go to the theatre every week of your adult life, you shouldn't find yourself on your feet applauding more than a half a dozen times. Perhaps the spectacular performance of Urinetown, or the rousing, energetic cast that just made Noises Off sing. Maybe the best Polonius you've ever seen, or an astonishing ensemble performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. If that is not what you've seen, that marvelous Pillow Man, that one time that outshines all the rest, then please, may I beg you, plead you, or if that won't work, shame you until you SIT DOWN.
Shame you? Yes. Shame you. You see, the minute you get to your feet and start the whistling and the cat calling at a completely mediocre performance of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof , you brand yourself. Truly sophisticated theatre goers rarely stand. They don't want to dilute the standing ovation by giving it too freely, by offering it to anyone and everyone who has the guts to stand on a stage at the local community theatre and warble a shaky rendition of All That Jazz. Yes, applaud. Appreciate their hard work. Give them a reason to volunteer for the next show (unless, of course, they were so awful you wanted to use the big gong and a cane to yank them off the stage). Stand ...only...absolutely only...when you cannot possibly sit, because it is such a stupendous performance that you will never, ever forget it. Such a wonderful experience that you will be talking about it when you are 103, and have forgotten everything else, including the names of your great-grandkids. That is when you stand. Otherwise, SIT DOWN.
If that doesn't convince you, how about this? I've been watching audiences for some time. There is always one who stands. Then it starts, like the wave, like the chants at ball games, like any other crowd action. You stand because someone else is standing. Right? You don't want to seem like a killjoy. Resist. Don't be so conformist that you find yourself on your feet, wondering why you are giving a standing ovation to a play you just slept through three-quarters of, or where you had to clap your hands over your ears because they had no idea how to project without screaming. This is sheer crowd psychology – you are standing because that person next to you is standing. That person is only standing because someone three rows down stood up. And the person three rows down? That's the grandmother of the young man in the chorus who was never in step with the rest, and tripped three of the other dancers, leading to a domino effect that almost sent the leading lady into the orchestra pit, if the comic relief hadn't been quick enough on his feet to save her. She stood up because she couldn't see her grandson behind everyone else trying to shield him from embarrassment. So, before you allow yourself to just follow the crowd, think. Did you really enjoy this show enough for a standing ovation? Is it better than Broadway? Is the leading lady your girlfriend? If not, then for god sake, SIT DOWN.