Are There Too Many Standing Ovations?

One of the greatest features of the blogosphere is the forum it provides for conversation. It really is the new marketplace of ideas. A wonderful discussion has emerged on a few of my favorite blogs -- Uncensored John Simon (which I wrote about in January 2011) and Ken Davenport's The Producer's Perspective (which I raved about back in December 2009). Mr. Simon argued in his post titled "The Audience" that too many people are standing up and cheering for performances that do not merit such euphoric praise. Mr. Davenport defended such displays of appreciation in his own post, "Why Do People Get So Upset When They See a Standing O?" 

Each blog entry had some valid points, and readers added their own interesting opinions on the topic in the comments sections. The debate has raged on, I'm sure, in other corners of cyberspace, as it has around watercoolers and other real-life environments. Are there too many standing ovations? Do people too often jump to their feet at the end of a show that doesn't really deserve that level of applause?

When I perform on stage, there is nothing more gratifying at the end of a performance than seeing the audience express their enjoyment for what they've experienced. The curtain call is that moment when both the actor and the crowd can connect one final time, both showing their gratitude, through a bow and through clapping, cheering, and yes, standing.

I agree that, especially on Broadway where ticket prices are so expensive, theatergoers have a right to jump and cheer at the end of each show they attend, even if they didn't just witness a masterpiece. Often, live theater culture encourages a sort of stifling passivity during a show.  We have to be quiet and not disturb our fellow patrons during an experience in which every cough and sneeze, every inadvertant chuckle or gasp, can cause heads to turn, distracting from the actions being performed under the lights before us. So when the story ends, applause and standing ovations can be seen as an outpouring of suppressed emotions.

If we stand for everything, though, it does delute the significance of such a gesture. Sometimes we see some people standing and others sitting, which magnifies the message that some thought the performance was brilliant and others are determined in their belief that, "Hey, it wasn't that great to make me get up off my seat." Sometimes, I feel crowd peer pressure to stand because I don't want it to be perceived that by not standing up to cheer I hated a show, which I actually liked (just not so much that I would leap to my feet about it).

If performers become accustomed to standing ovations as the norm rather than the exception, will that have the effect of minimizing genuine applause that's not delivered standing up -- will such cheering be viewed as polite but not sincere, because it was delivered sitting down?

There you have my own addition to the conversation. Let me know if any of you have any other thoughts on the debate. Until then, keep on cheering, whichever way you choose!

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