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It ain’t etiquette: How to be an attendant audience

Friday, August 22, 2008
Angel Lin


TAIPEI, Taiwan -- As Moses mounted Sinai he bespied, from his favorable vantage, Disney Theatrical’s Pride Rock upon the lush Taipei savanna and surrounded as it was by the robust circle of life the esteemed prophet looked on and pronounced eminently, “It is good.” No sooner however were the words the uttered did Moses note with despair the Taipei Arena spectators of questionable constitution. “Ye gods,” moaned Moses, and it was not good.

Submitted humbly below, a refresher on audience etiquette as based on New York’s “Stagebill” and Director Doug Woods of the PA Governor’s School for the Arts, where the first thing taught to teens is how to be the audience:

1. Thou Shalt Turn off Thy Communication Device

Once I was at a poetry reading where the announcer, packing some punch in the standard ho-hum cellphone reminder, prefaced the show with a rather dark limerick rhymed on “cancer” and “incurable gabber.” But there is no uncommon way to say this: Turn it off or you will make people sad. Unless you’re a physician on call, there is no reason you and the outside world must be in perpetual communion. You bought the ticket; why not enjoy the show? Also, should the device siren mid-overture, the rule holds doubly. It is no use letting it go and gazing askance at your neighbor. We know it’s you.

2. Thou Shalt Not Synopsize to Thy Offspring

In shows like “The Lion King,” there are invariably children in the audience, but it should not be invariable that they discuss the action with their parents throughout the performance. This was not a particular forte of Tuesday’s show, during which in my aural proximity there were approximately four parent-child pairs noisomely collaborating. In Europe, so it goes, children are taught that opera attendance is adult privilege, and if allowed to participate they may shut it or leave. Certainly though this is not Europe: a night out at the opera is few and far between for most Taiwanese parents, who on the rare occasion like their children along and to get the most of it. However, the audience is part of the performance, as etiquette is part of the experience. Make it so — children like learning new things — and play catch-up during intermission.

3. Thou Shalt Not Talk in General

Seriously. Please do not do this. If it is unpleasant when children are involved, think what unhappy thoughts a voluble adult stimulates amongst his compatriots. Variants of this are other noises of gusto such as “Thou Shalt Not Sing Along” and “Thou Shalt Not Beat Time with Body Part.” It’s not karaoke, and unless someone onstage makes it apparent (usually with both hands outstretched, clapping in magnificent sweep) that a demand exists, the rhythm section doesn’t need your help.

4. Thou Shalt Not Emit Noises of Ennui

Every so often, one sits for a performance to which he soon wishes he had not come. However in such cases no amount of audible yawning or program rustling is appropriate. This is instead a situation for Fake It Til You Make It, or the inconspicuous exit between movements or at intermission.

5. Thou Shalt Not Consume Certain Foods

Although it was enforced at the door on Tuesday, the no-food policy came apart after the ushers left their posts during the show, whereupon audience members going in and out harvested a fine crop of refreshments including popcorn and french fries from the nearby McDonald’s. These are all “Certain Foods.” For those who are uncertain, “Certain Foods” encompasses nearly “All Foods,” with the exceptions of bottled water and hard candies/cough drops, which are ideally unwrapped with minimal fanfare.

6. Thou Shalt Not Exit While Performance is in Progress

The tail of the show is part of the show. For sure it’ll be tough noogies to land a seat on the bus home, and there might be a line out of the parking lot, but those onstage ought not be graced with your backside zipping down the aisle as they take their bows.

As a footnote, “The Lion King” was spectacular, and it seems most people there enjoyed it immensely. The issue never really being audience interest, with time and information I trust the conduct of the Taiwanese audience will begin to reflect that regard already present in its enthusiasm.

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