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August 05, 2011

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Ronica

This debate has sprung up all over the internet and I'm kind of puzzled. No. It is not okay. I'm an actor and I deal with a lot of unacceptable audience behavior as is, let's not add booing to the list. People forget how connected actors are to their audiences. We can feel it when you are not enjoying the play. We can see you when you fall asleep or walk out during a scene. We can hear you when you talk, answer your phone, make approving or disapproving comments or vocal gesture (my people are known for that last one). If things are going poorly, or if it's a bad play, we know it, and don't need the added stress of a booing audience. When an audience member doesn't like the writing or the performances she can talk about it afterward, tell everyone she knows, write a review about it. Anything. But booing is not acceptable.

Jeremy M. Barker

I don't think it's acceptable to boo during a show, but I have no problem with people doing it at the end. I've been onstage too and know what a flop feels like, but you can't expect your audience to just give you that credit. How is this any different from when artists complain that reviewers are mean by not taking into account all the hard work they put into the show when they give it a bad review? It sucks to get negative feedback, but artists tend to be extremely thin skinned and want a great number of obligations separating them from the people giving it.

As for walking out a show, I have very few times. If I'm reviewing it, it strikes me as the height of rudeness, particularly. Once I did leave part way through, but it was a matinee of Guilbert and Sullivan, full three-hours on a sunny June day, and I couldn't bear to be inside anymore. I noted it and gave it a good review because it was good. Tom Stoppard's awful Rock and Roll I left halfway through and didn't bother reviewing as there were so many technical mistakes I couldn't tell where the fuck-ups ended and the terrible production as intended began. But those are the only occasions I can recall. I've wanted to many times, but when I'm watching something as a reviewer, "enjoyment" is only one of the things I feel like I have to consider. A good performance in a terrible show deserves to be seen and recognized.

Emily Post

In this day and age, booing is rude, particularly as it takes away from the viewing experience of one's fellow audience members. I fail to see, however, how leaving a show at intermission is rude (unless, of course, you are a reviewer). The audience is not there to make an actor/writer/director feel good about his/her work. They are there to see a play. If they aren't enjoying it, are offended by it, are mildly entertained but would rather be drinking, then by all means, they should leave at intermission, when their exit will not be a nuisance to anyone around them.

Scott Walters

I've never booed, and I am all for it. I would like a return to a more active, empowered audience who were no longer cowed by the artists. I think plays and performances would improve immediately.

Josh L

Wait, you think booing would automatically lead to better theater? Are you assuming that all audience members have exactly the same tastes and sensibilities? Are you assuming that this wouldn't increase the likelihood of random assholes ruining good and bad shows alike? Are you going to refund my ticket when some jerk ruins a show I was enjoying by booing?

You don't think booing will scare theater administrators away from ever producing or funding anything remotely seen as an artistic risk? They don't need anymore help with that.

James

Heh, don't take this the wrong way, Scott, but...in what universe are you living where audiences are "cowed by the artists?" In what plane of existence do tyrannical artists have a stranglehold on theatre patrons? There are many, many words one could describe stage actors, but, "Intimidating powerful despots" don't immediately spring to mind. The image, however, does make me smile.

Ahem.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. When I first read this article, I jokingly/cheekily tweeted (twote?) something to the effect of, "Is it okay to boo? Sure. Just not at my shows." But in all seriousness, hmmmmm...no, I don't think people should do it. Walking out's fine (I don't walk out, but that's because of my own personal OCD-based neuroses), preferably in the least disruptive way possible (at intermission, for example) and even refusing to clap at the end is also acceptable. But audibly booing or jeering is, I think, a pretty uncalled-for level of active hostility.

(That is, it's an uncalled-for level of active hostility if the only crime is the show stinks. If there's something more, like the performer breaks character, stops the show, and rants invective at the audience for being unresponsive, yeah, booing's fine. I never experienced this situation at a stage play, but at a concert, where the opening act stopped playing to yell at us for not being energetic enough. The crowd boo'ed at the lead singer. I believe he deserved it. But this behavior is rare for stage performers, and I digress.)

Like Ronica said, when an actor's performing in a show that's tanking, he or she already knows. I'm not really sure booing really helps matters any during the show or at curtain call. You're not conveying to the cast anything they don't already know, 99 times out of 100 they're just as glad it's curtain call as you (with bad shows or performances), and it most likely won't do anything to improve the work at hand. Just leave at intermission, or write a scathing review and/or tell all your friends to steer clear.

Though, to be honest, I'm curious as to what would happen if booing after or during a show became the norm. Would casts regularly respond back? If an audience jeered, would actors then just break characters, swear back at the audience and leave the stage? Pull an Axl Rose and yell out, "G'night, fuckers?" I'm not saying this would be a good thing, I'm just thinking out loud here on someone else's blog.

-Jimmy Comtois, a brutal force to be reckoned with (otherwise known as a playwright).

Ps. Seriously, Scott, I'm just ribbin' ya a bit. :)

middle aged white guy

Scott

Are you all for people booing your lectures?

middle aged white guy

And in addition...

Bizet got booed for Carmen, and as we all know that encouraged him to write better operas.

isaac

I feel very torn about this. I think a culture in which the audience had much more of a direct (and vocal) relationship with a production might be a better one. Certainly it worked well for Shakespeare et al. That being said, that's not the culture we have right now, that's not the culture we train people for, that's not the set of cultural norms we have etc. So right now we have a situation where something like booing or talking back to the show is super disruptive and destructive of the magical alchemy necessary to making the kind of theatre we make happen. For example, we consider someone booing (or let's just say vocally reacting negatively) to be disruptive to the magic spell of theatre, but laughing-- which is just as vocal, and just as loud-- we consider totally fine. I'm pretty sure that's just how we're conditioned to approach the live event. After all, little kids talk back to the plays they see all the time.

I wonder what a world where the cultural norms were different and people were expected to react-- positively and negatively, but honestly-- would be like. Now that I think about it, that to me is actually a more interesting question than the one I asked in this post.

herxanthikles

Speaking from the world of opera, where booing retains a certain acceptability, I can say that it's no great shakes. My experience of booing is totally unlike laughter, in that booing rarely that spontaneous. It is often the result of a certain agenda "I like this singer and I really don't like that singer." or "I only like traditional productions of operas written before 1920ish," I could buy booing if it was mostly a genuine response of open engaged people, but that hasn't been my experience. I guess it can be OK in curtain calls as the people who like can shout down the people who don't if they are so inspired.

Walking out on a show during intermission is good for everyone if you feel you need to do it. No reason to make yourself miserable, or the people around you miserable by being a (possibly coughing) killjoy.

Kent

People do respond organically, both positively and negatively, in the moment of performance. They cough, they shuffle in their seats, they yawn, they laugh, they applaud really funny lines. They are already expressing their opinions constantly and incessantly, in the ways that inform the performances and the production. As one commenter pointed out, booing, rarely spontaneous, generally comes from a preconceived agenda, not out of an honest response to a performance or a show. In this world, shows which broke new ground and took large risks would be routinely booed. For no other reason than they break form. I've seen this dynamic at play in new musicals, which has a very conservative audience base which has certain expectations, which of course need to be broken for the form to grow.

What I find maddening about this argument is that it comes from an increasingly snarky culture. Our culture and our attitudes towards performers and artists has become increasingly mean-spirited. There is nothing critical about booing a performer... there is only mean-spiritedness. Do you think you could do better? Are you certain it's the actor who you are booing's fault? The director and writer are likely not there to receive your disdain, so if you aren't sure, you had damn well better not boo.

I don't know a single artist who would agree with the assertion that audiences are cowed by artists. Doubt it? Attend one post-play discussion. Even of plays I thought were brilliant there is always some harsh criticism leveled at the performers. These forums are inevitably dominated by people who are desperate to prove that they are the smartest people in the room. Often to the detriment of the very smart and studied work of good people. These desperate intellectuals would be the first to boo.

Of course, there are times when something is bad, or boring, or awful. I think leaving is OK... mostly because I have found what I hate or loathe, lots of other people love and why should I suck the air out of their experience.

But since when has being intentionally mean spirited ever been ok?

josh

I recently found out that people in Chicago booed my 1-minute play entitled "Babies Are Dumb & Nobody Cares". If you're doing work that's a little antagonistic, you should expect that people may respond vocally.

That said, good form is to leave early. Everybody wins. I leave early every once in a while, but only when I seriously cannot stand to sit through the rest of the play for some reason.

Jeremy M. Barker

We may currently have a passive audience to artist culture, but that can change. Things do evolve all the time, and in the course of a decade or two things can be massive. So it always strikes me as odd to debate the rightness or wrongness of some action at the same time we acknowledge that things can change. I suppose this was all really started as a thought piece rather than a response to booing actually happening, but still.

As to actors "cowing" their audience, it's not the actors who do it, it's the presumption the audience enters with to most plays, that they're to sit back, take in what they see, possibly be slightly bored, and in the end reasonably edified by doing something "cultural." There's a time and a place for everything I firmly believe, but anyone who worries the theater is growing culturally irrelevant and wants to see energized should be taking aim at the idea that theater is culturally equivalent to haute-cuisine dining, where you pay for the opportunity to have a slightly rude waiter who makes you feel like you don't know what you're talking about (because you probably don't) take your order because it helps you feel like you're buying a unique and special experience. Theater can also be interactive, engaged and fun.

Jeremy M. Barker

Oh, and apparently it could be worse:

Chinese audiences think nothing of calling their friends during a performance and commenting on the show, or simply talking about something else. Children run around; audiences sleep, chat and fidget their way through shows. Even the opening production in the National Grand Theatre, a spectacular if shortened performance of Prince Igor by the Kirov Opera, complete with horses, was ruined by cameras flashing, phones ringing, noisy eating and out-of-control children. Nearly half the audience bailed out at the interval.

http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/2011/07/chinese-adaptations-western-classics-shakespeare-pinter-ibsen-edinburgh-international-festival/

Sam

I think i'll write a play in which the audience is encouraged to boo at some point. Like at a villain or something. Even better, I might try to get different parts of the audience to take sides on the conflict on stage, and get them to boo and cheer accordingly. I'll call it "Pro Wrestling."

vivian

Version 6.0 of Joyfax Server with Cool Fax Editor has arrived!

outdoor playground equipment

I leave early every once in a while, but only when I seriously cannot stand to sit through the rest of the play for some reason...good blog..

Steve

Booing is never acceptable unless you're a monkey. Use your words, fool.

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