Thursday, June 15, 2017

LIZ SMITH: Welcome to the Theater

Sarah Bernhardt as Theodora by Nadar.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Welcome to the Theater — If you can find a comfortable seat and don't HAVE to stand up!

“FOR the theatre one needs long arms ... an artiste with short arms can never make a fine gesture,” said Sarah Bernhardt.

For the theater these days, one needs short legs and a very tiny tush. Well, the audience, certainly! 
OUR REMARKS here on June 2nd concerning the size of theater seats and others matters, such as the de rigueur standing ovations and TV audience oddities, connected viscerally with some of our readers.  Here are a few responses:

From Nancy Thomsen:

“I couldn’t agree more.  Why are today’s audiences screaming at any and every little thing as if it was earth-shatteringly important?  I have not watched Good Morning America or The Today Show in years because of the screaming.  And Ellen?  Forget it.
“Not only does everything and everyone get a standing ovation — which are only occasionally worthy — other reactions such as laughter seems overdone by many audiences.  Something I find mildly amusing they seem to find hilarious. Is nothing restrained anymore?”
“I’m afraid I have to include the subject of women’s voices because they have become screeching sounds.  I hit the Mute button fast!   The women of HGTV who do makeovers or sell homes, I often watch without sound, no matter how interesting the topic or observations may be.  News commentators?  Where did well-modulated voices go?  They all sound like fishwives. (Although I am not sure I have ever really heard a fishwife!)

“I am so glad I am not alone in my response to the screaming, etc.!”
Barry Disman opines:

“I would not mind so much the outrageous theater pricing, if the experience was comfortable to my body, relaxing to my soul, stimulating to my mind. But for too long now Broadway has become a venue for people mistakenly dressing for a day at the beach.  If feels to me like disrespect for all the talented people onstage and especially behind the scenes. 

“Not only are the seats way too small, the audiences way too out-of-control, but after spending two or three hundred (I won’t go higher!), I also have to be distracted by the idiot adjacent to me texting throughout the show.  So, I stay away.

“The last show I saw where the audience displayed some semblance of decorum was ‘The Audience.”  And even after the curtain calls, two people behind me had a screaming fight over someone texting constantly.  I know my complaint will mean nothing to the producers and theater owners.  They are all riding high on waves of cash, with their business policy aiming to ‘screw the audience.’  So, theater has become a ‘But Not for Me’ experience.”
Finally, here is Paul Brogan:

“You really nailed it, I must confess.  I am puzzled by the standing ovations displayed today because it used to be something that happened only once in a while and not on a regular basis. If you were fortunate enough to be there when it happened, you never forgot it.  You truly felt you were part of something special.

“One of the first shows I saw as a child in the early 60’s was “Gypsy” with Ethel Merman, in Boston.  The audience loved her and cheered and whistled and applauded long and loud.  But they didn’t stand.  I saw dozens of shows and performers in those years — Mary Martin, Carol Channing, Barbra Streisand. The audiences adored the shows, but didn’t stand.

“The first standing ovation I witnessed was at the North Shore Music Theater in the summer of 1976. Ginger Rogers was doing her nightclub act, with her ‘Four Freds.’  At the conclusion of her ‘Carioca’ number, the audience stood and applauded.  My parents, who were in attendance, turned to me and said, ‘Don’t ever forget being witness to a standing ovation.  They’re doing this to honor Ginger for her nearly fifty-year career ...’

“By the '90s it was commonplace.  And it seems today that the audience spends more time on their feet than they do sitting down.”

Hmmm!  Well, getting back to one of our own original points, perhaps if theater seats were more comfy, audiences wouldn’t feel the need to leap up constantly and applaud.  Maybe they’d save  those standing O’s for really special moments?
WELL, now that some theatergoers have barked, here’s news about one of Broadway’s most beloved institutions — the 19th annual “Broadway Barks” event in Shubert Alley.

This happens on July 8th (3 p.m.-6:30 p.m.) The event, founded by Bernadette Peters and Mary Tyler Moore, facilitates dog and cat adoption and benefits Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
Broadway Barks founders Mary Tyler Moore and Bernadette Peters.
This year Malcolm McDowell will preside with Bernadette, over the fun-filled afternoon.  (Malcolm can be seen these days in the Amazon hit, “Mozart in the Jungle.”)  The celebrity quotient is high, as always. Here a just a very few of the stars who will lend their names and presence to the proceedings: Christine Ebersole ... Janeane Garofalo ... Andy Karl ... Laurie Metcalf ... Bebe Neuwirth ... Beth Leavel ... Will Roland ... David Hyde Pierce ... Eva Noblezada ... Jennifer Ehle and more, more, more! (Stars from almost every single major Broadway and off-Broadway production will attend — because, who doesn’t love puppies and kittens? And if you don’t, keep it quiet.)
Malcolm McDowell and Bernadette will preside over the 19th annual “Broadway Barks!’ event in Shubert Alley.
Also, the only standing ovation required is the one you can give yourself, for rescuing an innocent animal and contributing to the great needs of Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Because — and we can never say this enough — HIV/AIDS continues as a terrible scourge.  It’s not over. Don’t kid yourselves.

Again — July 8th, Shubert Alley. Be there.

Contact Liz here.