Respect. Yes, in this day and age of casualness and informality, respect for the theatre seems to be falling by the wayside. Recently, while in New York, my husband and I attended two Broadway shows. One of these shows, “Cabaret”, featured my favorite actor, Alan Cumming. I waited fifteen years to see him as the Emcee in Roundabout Theatre’s production of Kander and Ebb’s classic romp through 1930’s Berlin. I scrimped and saved for nine months to make my dream a reality. So, if what happened last night at Studio 54 had happened a few weeks ago when we were there, my whole experience would have been tainted, and quite possibly ruined. I don’t care how famous you think you are or how many movies you’ve made, you still owe the performers up on that stage respect. By the way, I’ve made a couple of films but I’ve been involved with a lot more live theatre shows. Plus, my husband and I are theatrical costume designers, so we know and understand exactly what it takes to launch a theatrical production. We have also been in shows. Actors, designers, and crew spend months of hard work and long days to bring you a few hours of enjoyment. Yes, in the theatre, we work nine to five. Nine a.m. to five a.m. the next morning with barely enough time to shovel food in our mouths and maybe a ten-minute catnap to keep us going through the night. It’s not an easy life but we love it. We really do. Very few “theatre people” actually get rich working in the theatre. Many of us live paycheck to paycheck. But, still, we couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
So, when we attended two evening performances at esteemed Broadway houses, we were shocked to see our fellow attendees in T-shirts, cut-offs, and flip flops. Now, I’m not saying everybody who goes to a Broadway show has to design and build their own evening dress with matching purse in the time period of the show they are attending but at least put on your Sunday clothes. The actors deserve it. You’re not watching a movie where no matter how many you see it, you get the same performance. Up on that stage, the actors can see you. They work hard for you. Pay them the respect they deserve. After all, they got all gussied up for you.
In order for you to hear the words the actors are saying, many theatres use hidden mics. Nothing is worse than sitting in a house and hearing static coming through the speakers because someone can’t live without their electronic leash. Please, TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONES. Many actors will, and deservedly so, mock you. And the rest of the audience now has horrible, life-altering memories of your mistake. Do you really want to be remembered by a thousand strangers as the idiot who ruined a Tony award winning performance by leaving your phone on? And don’t try to fool everybody by simply turning the ringer to “silent.” We will still know when your screen flashes or lights up, in a dark house.
Now, some shows do encourage times of “audience participation.” Both my husband and I can now claim that we have sung in a Broadway show with Annie Potts. Of course, so can one thousand seven other people that night. My point is that unless one of the actors onstage directs you in the audience to make some sort of noise, DON’T. It’s rude to everybody else on and off stage. Wait till intermission or after the show to make a comment or ask a question. There will be plenty of time to tweet or Facebook your opinions later.
Another thing that makes a theatrical performance enjoyable to everybody is starting the show on time. The actors you are about to see onstage didn’t just get to the theatre, saunter into their dressing room, and throw on some outfit without a second thought. They have what’s referred to in our profession as a “call time.” This is what time they are required to show up at the theatre and start getting ready. A call time can be as little as one hour before curtain, or when the show starts. An average call time is more like two hours. So for your 8:00 performance, the cast has been there since 6:00. Now, for make-up heavy shows, such as “Phantom of the Opera” or “Beauty & the Beast,” some of those actors may have call times five to six hours ahead of the start of the show. Imagine sitting in a make-up chair for four to five hours a day, six days a week, while someone meticulously applies a prosthetic to transform you into the Phantom or a talking mantel clock. Follow this with a two to three hour performance, showering, getting back into your civilian clothes, and signing autographs outside the stage door. This can make for a rather long day, albeit quite a rewarding one. You can help them out by arriving to the theatre by the appointed time printed on your ticket. What happens if too many people are late? The house holds the curtain. So now, your 8:00 performance starts at 8:20, much to the chagrin of everybody who did get there on time.
So, the next time you head to a Broadway show or even just your local high school production, remember that everyone on that stage and behind it, have put their heart and soul and blood, sweat, and many, many tears into giving you the performance of a lifetime. Support your troupes and give them the R*E*S*P*E*C*T that they deserve.