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Misbehaving Audiences

Tovah Feldshuh in Irena’s Vow

Tovah Feldshuh in Irena’s Vow

I was going through a pile of Wall Street Journals last night before recycling them when I came across the front page feature article from two Saturdays ago. I’m glad I caught it. It has the clever title Are Misbehavin’: No Tonys for These Performances, and in it, Ellen Gamerman writes about some astonishing examples of audience misbehavior these days. For example:

The litany of misdemeanors is long. During a Saturday matinee of the Holocaust drama “Irena’s Vow,” a man walked in late and called up to actress Tovah Feldshuh to halt her monologue until he got settled. “He shouted, ‘Can you please wait a second?’ and then continued on toward his seat,” recalls Nick Ahlers, a science teacher from Newark, N.J., who was in the audience. He says the actress complied.

Ms. Feldshuh says she typically pauses when she’s interrupted. She doesn’t recall the incident, which she says may be evidence of the Zen attitude she’s cultivated onstage. “I have no negative energy about it to even remember,” she says.

Gamerman makes the useful observation that unruly behavior isn’t new: “Rowdy audiences have been around as long as stages. William Shakespeare’s plays were performed outdoors while prostitutes and drunk spectators milled about eating fruit and nuts, talking back to the actors and throwing things at them.”

Maybe this is as it should be. The article ends on a cheery note:

Some shows are beginning to experiment with new etiquette rules. “Hair” director Diane Paulus is exploring ways to make the theater atmosphere more relaxed, less traditional. In order to keep up with the times, she plans to allow cell phones this summer at a theater space at the American Repertory Theater, in Cambridge, Mass., where she is the artistic director.

“I’ll tell you, it’s radical,” she says. “I don’t think there’s a theater in America that tells you to turn your phone on.”

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