Friday, June 2, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Welcome to The Theater

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Welcome to The Theater — If You Can Find a Comfortable Seat!


“THERE IS nothing like staying at home for real comfort,” said Jane Austen.
BROADWAY theaters are what make New York City different! Not that everybody supports The Theater because it has turned too expensive. But it still is unique, in that the Theater makes Times Square the place to go.

If you can't afford to buy a theater ticket at current hundreds of dollars a pop, you can still see the others who do have tickets going inside, plus the glamorous posters and marquees and star names that are up in lights. And who knows? You might see an actual star or familiar actor you recognize!
Of course, there are other theater centers around the globe where people congregate. But the under-stated attractions of London, or Sydney, or sometimes even sprawling Los Angeles, can compare to the gaudy glamour of New York’s Times Square.

And what’s more, almost any actor, star, performer wants to end up in the Broadway Theater. (This is especially so for those who have already made their fortune in TV.)

Theater owners, on the other hand, don’t care much about the crowds milling around Times Square. When they get a chance to “do over” or re-construct their buildings, which are historical and old, theater owners don’t pay attention to the comfort of their captive paying audience. They have other problems — unions, ushers, the changing rules for selling drinks you can carry to your seat, and other similar problems. Theater lovers will come anyway.

So owners seldom deal with changing times and little items like comfortable seats.

The fact is seats need to be enlarged to accommodate heavier people and the increasing weight and height of well-fed Americans.

I went to see “Sunset Boulevard” recently and the average persons who were seatmates could barely wedge themselves into their old-fashioned seats. I was unique, at last, for weighing under 125lbs (because I am so ancient.) And pounds aside, men are simply tall and growing taller all the time. While I like tall men, it’s no fun now to sit behind one in the theater. They are usually accommodating and slump down.

At “Sunset Boulevard,” I was in very good seats but it didn’t matter. I couldn’t see the entire stage once I sat down. I never had a good look at the entire busy set, getting only glimpses of it between the people sitting in front of me. In fact, I never got a chance to study anything for the music signaling that Glenn Close was already dramatically descending the stairs. She was almost on the final step before I could locate her.
Perhaps the best view.
The hair-dos and heft of the two people in front of me prevented me from seeing anything from time to time. And the people in front of me were perfectly nice; not ungainly. It's not their fault.
I suppose it's not his fault either.
And nobody can say that audiences aren’t enthusiastic these days. They shoot up out of their seats and stand applauding for the least thing that happens onstage. And thus, I haven’t seen a full curtain call or a standing ovation in several years. These were once reserved for special occasions. Now the audience explodes at every chance they get. They stand and applaud screaming at every opportunity and I am sitting behind them, not ready to give such acclaim. So, frequently I never get to see a curtain call; I am still sitting gathering my wits before I get a chance to stand up.
A glimpse!
People stomp and scream their approval. I guess TV has conditioned everyone to yell and stand because this is how people act on Oprah, Ellen and what have you. TV has conditioned us to scream, no matter what junk is being offered. The theater should be above this.

I have now started going to theater with a pillow booster and trying to study the set before the screaming begins. I never see curtain calls because everyone is already standing, applauding. I see backsides!
A higher vantage point might just be the answer.
But on the bulletproof opening night of “Hello, Dolly!” I had a seat where I saw my darling Bette Midler only now and then. My seat had only a side view of part of the stage. An over-enthusiastic audience was standing and clapping from the first. Bette and the show deserved such a tribute.

That was different, and I loved it! It was a special night! A one-time only occasion and I was just lucky to see  any part of it and to have any seat at all.
This proved that the theater is still where it’s “at.” Even so, I believe audiences should lose weight and be slow to give unreasoned enthusiasm from the moment the curtain rises.

And I guess tall men should still slump down in their tiny seats. They don’t have much choice.

Here’s for more room for bigger and better seats in theater auditoriums’ for everyone. 

Contact Liz here.