Stop Standing Ovations – Yes

Indeed, standing ovations garner a well-used response and reaction from many audiences across many genres of entertainment. Whether one is attending their child’s debut drama performance in their high school play or closing night of “Wicked” on Broadway, it appears that ticket-buyers must state their opinion of the power of a performance with a simple rising to their feet. Perhaps sitting for three to four hours didn’t factor into this decision and audience members could have sat for another two to three hours with no need to stand on their feet to applaud. It is evident that the resonance ability of the hall catching the chattering of thousands of hands slapping together, in addition to the common sense of sound most human beings possess, is enough to justify the comfort of a well-cushioned seat. This ticket buyer spent over forty hours running around during the work week in order to pay for the ticket, he or she deserves a three to four hour rest with visual and auditory stimulants.

I have performed in a variety of settings for twenty-one years, ranging from amateur to professional, “B” opera houses, and community theater. In that wealth of experience the performer can understand that a standing ovation rarely indicates the quality of a performance in the final few minutes of the show! Rather, it is evident that throughout the entirety of the performance that the audience was rather impressed with the its quality, power, and expression that it was necessary to allow a supposed “thrust” of energy to an even higher apex of elation, if the clapping and shouting did not do the job. In essence, one doesn’t usually find an overwhelming response of standing and cheering at the end of a performance when most of the audience slept for the first three hours of the show.

In a fairly recent performance I attended at the Metropolitan Opera the ovations at the end of the performance resembled more a Sunday at Mass rather than “Aida,” by Giuseppe Verdi. It was my assumption that after peering to nearby audience members to view their rolling eyes after the third time they were required to rise to their feet, obviously mentally willing that no lunatic at orchestra level jump to their feet for the fifth time thereby requiring all to do so, that it wasn’t a popular indication of performance satisfaction. In the end, a particular word was created in order to thwart the necessity of needing to rise before painstakingly forcing dead limbs to awake from their slumber. That word is “BRAVO!”

Are performers aghast at seated applauders? When did the last performer simply exit the stage in a huff when the entire audience, with gleeful looks on their faces, praised the performance they deemed extremely well done while sitting on their comforted behinds?

A performer enters the entertainment business because of the ability to do memorable, or unfortunately unforgettable, things in front of audiences. I surmise that performers can usually endure large amounts of rejection, criticism, and controversy. The very fact that they were offered a job and audience members paid for their seat, or stimulated enough interest to attend, should be effective in making the statement that these arts patrons enjoy what they are attending. There is no need to further stroke the performers’ well-developed egos.

In order to put things into perspective, a scenario should be created wherein the composer of the music would be invited to the performance of their work and witness the last few measures of their masterpiece being hounded by a zealous applauder. It is my opinion that the composer would slowly shake his or her head while retaining a charming smile. This would more be directed toward the intimacy of the emotional state of being at those very last moments of composing the work, rather than the thousands of stomping feet singing his or her praise.

In essence, one finds very few theater lovers who possess this respect and admiration of the music, the artistry, the awe, and the wonder of being a part of a miracle, a creation of the profound and eternal. It is almost comedic to hear the sound of thunderous applause practically shattering the moment created by music and dramatic art at the close of the curtain. A more effective response would be the gentle sobs of a moved audience, one that understands that the roar of applause sometimes seems too much, and the storing of this precious moment in an enraptured heart is far louder than the loudest of applause. Dramatic and musical performances aren’t held on baseball fields, or in hockey rinks, yet many seem to think that professional sports translate to culture and art in the same rough and aggressive fashion. Compare the audience response from the next homerun you see at Dodger stadium and the end of a performance on Broadway. What is your observation?

Standing ovations seem to miss the mark when it comes to the creation of art. Audiences attend performances in order to receive, the performer’s role is to give. If audience members would realize it, they also possess the role of giver when they purchase the ticket, when they give their attention, and when they remember the performance. The performer also receives when they look out into that audience and see those many faces who care. “It is better to give, than to receive.” In many ways, standing ovations seem to take away.