Tell me if you can, why do audiences give a standing ovation at almost every performance of a play or musical?
I don’t know when I was taught what a standing ovation meant. I have always taken it to be a way to express thanks for a truly great experience in the theater. There are few times when I have felt that a performance warranted such appreciation and most times were for the shows put on by my high school’s drama troupe. Were they perfect? No, but that pool of young thespians was pretty darn talented and the directors put their heart and souls into every piece. It showed. The stories were clear, the songs sung sincerely and the back of the house worked hard at their jobs. All parts of a performance came together to make you feel that the last two, okay four, hours of your life were well spent. I can’t remember the last time I experienced the same satisfaction after watching a show, which conveniently brings me back to my point.
I’m not a critic of theater but I can recognize when that electric charge of connection between the players and the audience sets the hairs of your arm to tingling like someone waved a magnet over them. I’ve watched passable performances of Urinetown, Chess, The Drowsy Chaperone, and many others in recent years. For the most part, the direction was fine but uninspired, singers sang sufficiently but the action had little momentum. When done I’d applaud, scratch that show of my mental list of ones to watch, and reach for my jacket. At the same time, the rest of the audience inevitably swells up into an ovation, grating into my nerves in the process. I’d like to think that my sensibilities rile due to yet another example of how our society wants to praise everyone for merely existing rather than for excelling. Perhaps I’m just cynical and every performance should be extolled for merely concluding without glaring mishaps. To me, as the curtain falls, the performers and crew are merely people who have finished a job and unless I’ve felt that connection, they don’t warrant more than a few claps. But as I look around and see that I’m eye level with hundreds of booties yet again, I realize I must be alone in that opinion.