October 21st, 2009

theatre: stage

LJ Idol Topic 1 -- Empty Gestures

I go to a lot of performing arts events. A lot. Not as many as I'd like to, but I average at least three to four plays, concerts, dance shows, or other events a month; often (usually) more--and that's not even counting the shows I'm working on.

Needless to say, I've seen a lot of good and a lot of bad work.

I've seen a lot of really good work that's not given the credit it's due, and I've seen some pretty mediocre work that's praised to high heaven, beginning with the thunderous standing ovation.

Well, okay. Maybe not "thunderous." In some standing ovations, it's more a sense of obligation and peer pressure than anything else. When the people around you start standing, you feel like kind of a jerk if you don't. Or maybe it's just that you can't see the curtain call any more. For whatever reason, that kind of ovation--the slow, kind of reluctant kind--is what I see most often. For as much live performance as I've been a part of, either as an audience member, a performer, or a producer or director, it's rare to see that spontaneous moment when the entire audience jumps to their feet the second the curtain goes down.

Even so--even if you can distinguish a reluctant standing ovation from an enthusiastic one--it's sad that it's expected, for the most part, that an adequate performance will receive one. The power of that collective moment of awe that drives the audience to its feet has been lost.

As an audience member, the automatic expectation of an ovation takes away my power to respond in some way to a performance that deeply moves me or is in some way excellent enough to be acknowledged beyond simple applause.

As a performer, the ubiquity of standing ovations takes away that heightened level of connection with the audience. It removes the breathlessness of knowing that this show garnered a reaction above the ordinary.

When standing ovations lose that power, what’s left? Standing on the seats to elevate the praise to another level?

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