Let’s Talk About Show Decorum
January 28, 2016
What is a performer to do when an audience member is loud and obtrusive? Recently, I experienced such an extreme example of this, I’m provoked to address the subject.
Allow me to quote the last paragraph of my review of Tommy Tune at Café Carlyle:
“On opening night, my companion and I sat two chairs away from The Real Housewives of New York’s Countess Luann De Lessepps who was a mere foot from the stage. During the show, she talked to her companion, let blast intermittent, screeching, two-fingered whistles, yelled what she justified as encouragement, added intrusive comments, clapped, snapped her fingers, and even rose, when the performer momentarily had his back to us, to hug him. Tune soldiered on in the finest tradition of his art, but was finally pushed to asking her to sit down when he reached the finale. I myself repeatedly shushed De Lessepps without results. This woman has authored a book on Manners?! There is no excuse for this kind of behavior. None. At the least, apology is due.”
Many artists would have addressed the source of interference politely, but firmly, during the performance in hopes she or he was not drunk and possibly beyond reason. Embarrassment can work wonders. Some fans are actually unaware.
A legendary incident actually observed by a friend concerns George C. Scott on an Off-Broadway stage. As Scott ranted a monologue, he observed the feet of a front row patron propped up on the stage. Without missing a beat, the actor brought his blocking forward and forcefully kicked the man’s offending protuberances so hard, he fell off his seat. Bravo.
I once saw a Broadway star stop the show to have an usher commandeer an audience member’s telephone, saying he could have it back after the performance. There was no resistance.
Cabaret is an intimate art. You’re generally in a fairly small club, often elbow to elbow. Atmosphere is paramount. At the fabled Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room, I was seated next to two clearly drunk women who were ill-behaved during, as I recall, a show by Andrea Marcovicci. In this case, I actually spoke aloud to them when they wouldn’t shut up. Management immediately appeared and gently escorted the inebriated duo out. Everyone around me expressed gratitude. Andrea nodded and went on. I have no idea whether she would’ve taken matters into her own hands, but she would have been justified and appreciated for it.
The only exception that immediately comes to mind affects artists who perform in bars. At a Bemelmans Bar set by Billy Stritch and Jim Caruso, I took offense to an extremely loud man in a party just around a partition that flanked our seats. I seethed. At last, circumspectly looking at Billy, I began to rise only to see the veteran musician vigorously shake his head no. I was reminded that bar customers can unfortunately get away with acting out. A different set of ersatz rules applies.
My point? Don’t be reticent to speak out. Your audience is also suffering. They will support you. Most clubs will get involved if this doesn’t do the trick. If you’re in the audience, for God’s sake, do what you can to help your peer. As to Tommy, I gather there were extenuating circumstances, but have been told the offender is now on the stylish room’s “no fly” list. One can only hope.