I recently read this post by Amanda Ameer on her wonderful blog Life's A Pitch who wrote about her experiences at the Mostly Maux Arts Festival in New York called Dressed to Kill the Art Form. It is a scathing look at audience behavior and how, for having the stereotype of placing so much emphasis on decorum and protocol, those who attend classical music performances can be as rude (or ruder) as audiences at rock concerts or worse, the movies.
We've all experienced audiences behaving badly. The coughing contests that seem to begin the moment the lights dim; the gentleman conducting the orchestra with a rolled up program; the cell phone that chirps out the Queen of the Night aria at a Strauss opera and the person who actually answers the phone to let the person calling know they are currently at an Strauss opera; the person who spends an entire opera typing away on their blackberry laughing at their own wit; the lady (I-kid-you-not) who sings along to the soprano for the entire opera (this, thankfully, did not occur here in San Diego). Hey, at least I haven't experienced any brawls in the theatre, yet.
Perhaps because I look at the theatre as one of the last places refuge, a place of respite from the everyday demands we're constantly bombarded with that I am overly sensitive to audience behavior. I'm not the only one; The Opera Tattler reviews not only opera performances but audience behavior as well.
Now, I’m not a stickler for rules, but I believe some rules are needed when attending a live performance; namely because they are live and they are expensive to attend in the first place. I cannot go back and rewind the last act to watch it again if the person behind me wants to offer commentary to his date.
I understand the need to cough when the need to cough arises, I understand the need to pop a candy in your mouth when hunger strikes. I understand the need to get up and use the bathroom and I even take the unpopular stance of allowing people the chance to return to the theatre to the first open available seat on the aisle.
But more often than not my theatre experience is ruined by a couple talking a few behind me, or the cel phone bleating which simply baffles me.
We here at San Diego Opera even go as far to post a set of rules or “Opera Courtesies” on our website. Many of them are common sense. When did common sense become so uncommon?