September 10, 2023: A date that will surprise the audience. That night, at the Buell Theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert and her date took a stroll early in Act 2 of the touring production of “Beetlejuice: The Musical.” This happened at the insistence of theater staff and Denver police after fellow audience members made multiple complaints about the busy couple in the hallway.
Boebert’s violations included vaping in the theater (cough); mutual groping with her lover (goes out!); selfies with flash on (absolutely no); and singing along with the cast (at least wait for the “Mamma Mia!” tour). Other violations that night allegedly included Boebert yelling, “Do you know who I am?” It also includes using the expression in a careless manner. – a line that has yet to be uttered by a single sympathetic character on stage, screen or in life.
Are theater etiquette on its last legs? Even if what happened in Denver represents extremes, what is considered acceptable behavior these days? Two former theater critics, the Tribune’s Nina Metz and Michael Phillips, share a few of their experiences and offer some ground rules we can try from time to time. For old time’s sake.
Meanwhile, the non-union national tour of “Beetlejuice” is being staged in Chicago Auditorium Theater 7-19 November.
Phillips: As for the Boebert thing, that’s a really big deal. I can’t help but marvel at this degree of questionable viewer behavior. Nina, what is one of the weirdest things you’ve witnessed as an audience member?
metz: I once went to a show in Steppenwolf and the person next to me was eating shelled peanuts and throwing the empty shells on the ground. No shame! And it’s loud. When people got up during the break, there was crunching and crunching. Then there are people who buy an icy drink during intermission and bring it back to the theater and Every time they tip it back to take a sip during the performance, that’s it. shh shh voice, over and over again.
Also: It’s totally okay — ahem, preferably – to lighten perfume or cologne. Or a garlic dinner ahead of time. I’m just saying… if COVID has made us aware of anything, it’s that we all share the same weather.
Phillips: Overall, I probably caused more problems as a theatergoer just by being tall and showing up. I’m especially covering the shows in New York. In Chicago, people may be more polite or resign themselves to bad luck if they sit behind someone who impairs their view of the stage. But more often than not, when I settle into my seat for a show in New York, these kinds of pained sighs and “oh god no” behind me. Even before I was fully seated.
The worst was “Nine” with Antonio Banderas. When Banderas came to the edge of the stage, just a few feet away from us, for his number one, my friend behind me went into excited panic. But I was blocking my way, so he folded the Playbill and started hitting me on the head and saying, “Are you going to… are you going to… are you going to do it?” he blurted out. crouch for a minute!?” Wah-wah-wah, It’s a slightly wild, remarkable moment.
metz: Nobody likes to be blocked! When I saw “Hamilton,” I grabbed an orchestra seat; I bought it at the last minute but it was still a lot of money, so the next part is important: The slope in the orchestra part A lot light. There is basically no slope at all. And the young woman in front of me had styled her hair in this beautiful bun. And it completely blocked my view. And you can’t do anything! It’s disgusting to say anything.
But at least take off your hat if it’s winter. This makes a difference. Anything you can do to avoid obstructing the person’s view.
Phillips: I hesitate to make it sound like there’s a strict behavioral regime that everyone must follow in a play or a movie or whatever. Obviously not. But there is value in looking at the Boebert incident as a new benchmark for measuring what not to do. Or how many different ways there are to ignore common sense etiquette in a very short period of time?
These days we are all encouraged by theater marketing and especially film marketing to post, send messages, take photos! To share! However, do not forget to turn off the phones after the break. Be impressive! A disruptor! But don’t bother. Thanks to movies, some people will not be silenced. They don’t believe they should stop talking when the lights go out because when they do, no one at home will shut them up.
It’s like Dustin Hoffman’s line in “Midnight Cowboy”: “I’m walking here!” But now, “I’m talking here!”
Metz: Who else probably says “I’m talking here!” Do you know what he thinks? Actors are on stage! They watch every trouble and I am understanding. Patti LuPone was famous back then I stopped a show and took a phone call from a texting viewer. Actors have truly seen it all, and it’s their job to not let audience antics distract them as they pour their heart and soul into a performance… but what about the rest of us? (laughs)?
Singing in a musical is perhaps a different story. I’m not saying like Because the voice of the person a few seats away will never be as good as the person on stage. But when I saw “Jersey Boys,” the musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, For this reason A lot people were singing because it was the soundtrack of their youth. But then I thought, if this were about the Jersey boys of a completely different decade—I’m talking about Bon Jovi, of course—I might be singing along, too. I mean, that’s more or less the premise of a musical like “Rock of Ages.” Them brave You will not sing together.
The thing about audience behavior… What is Jean-Paul Sartre’s quote?
Phillips: No exit?
metz: Oh, no: “Hell is other people.” That’s how it feels for some viewers. Especially if it’s a long battle over the armrest. Or is it the couple nearby who keeps talking? During the show? Hello??
Who wants to watch a game with no one there? I’ve actually had this experience in smaller theaters and it’s strange. You want to have people around you. I always prefer to be a face in the crowd rather than a Lone Audience Member.
Phillips: I also love the social audience experience, no matter how complex or extreme it may be at times. On the other hand, some interactive experiences just aren’t my thing. I used to think the five scariest words in the English language, when everyone else was doing them, were “interactive murder mystery dinner theater.”
But now… I still am.