By Isaac Butler
So asks Philadelphia theatre critic David Fox. He even goes so far to consult Miss Manners (who, shockingly, says it's okay). While he probably wouldn't personally boo, he could understand ways that it could be acceptable:
If I were going to boo now, I’d establish clear ethical guidelines, including separating mere incompetence (which is just sad, and doesn’t deserve further censure), from egregious sins like grandstanding, upstaging and generally pandering. And I would maintain that booing during a performance is playing dirty – it dampens everything that follows. Instead, wait for the curtain call, which after all is by definition a forum for audience expression. Make sure booing implicates only its specific target. Performers often bow in groups, and there’s already too much collateral damage in the world.
Finally, I’d consider alternative punishment. Not clapping at all is similarly disapproving, and it’s more elegant. And there’s always the option of leaving early, which is showy and has the additional advantage of sparing an unhappy audience member further misery. A wise friend who is also a frequent early-exiter calls this his “life is too short” rule.
I've never booed at the theatre, nor do I really think it's acceptable, even if you're a pulitzer prize winning playwright and you don't like the critically acclaimed show you've just seen. And I've only ever left one show at intermission, and that was because I was bored and it was the last night in New York for the friend I was seeing the play with and we decided getting a drink and talking was more important for our friendship than being bored by a blindingly obvious French anti-war play in translation. I almost never stand, regardless of what the audience around me is doing, as that should be a reward for something truly spectacular.
That being said... I have noticed something happening recently that's very odd, and kind of off-putting. I find myself doing this weird half-scoff-half-laugh at the theatre when the show is trying too hard (and failing) to emotionally manipulate me. I don't mean to do it. I'm not performing. It's an earnest response to what's going on on stage--a response of genuine contempt and anger--and I don't even know I'm doing it until it is done. Much as one does not self-consciously decide to laugh at a good joke, I don't self-consciously decide to scoff at hackneyed manipulation.
I understand that on one level this is bad behavior, because it distracts other people and could potentially break the spell for them and that's really the last thing I want to do. At the same time, we're supposed to be okay with authentic audience response, positive or negative.
Have you ever booed? or walked out? Do you ever scoff?