Sir?…Excuse me, sir? Can you hear me? Sir?
Oh, good. I see you put your hearing aids back in your ears. I saw you in the first row, taking them out 45 minutes through the show, presumably so you could sleep undisturbed.
In the first row.
So you wouldn’t have to hear the actors… despite sitting in the first row.
Everyone saw you do that. At least, everyone on my side of the theater. The theater is set up so that one half of the audience is seated facing the other.
And you, sir, were seated in the first freaking row.
We also saw you poke, pester, and complain to the woman seated next to you, presumably your wife–someone obliged to put up with your childish bullshit. She smiled at your snarky eye-rolls, your audible sighs and groans, your angry shrugs and leg-crossing. The person on your other side also seemed to patiently endure your immature antics. You likely felt it more important for them to hear your reckless displays of old-man annoyance than the dialogue on stage.
And to top it all off, during a quiet moment just 20 seconds before the play’s final line, you loudly stated, “This is Hell!” for the whole theater to hear. My mouth went wide. You were a mere two feet away from the actors. You made their bows very uncomfortable.
At no point did anyone in the audience tap you on the shoulder and ask you to be more respectful. At no point did the Signature Theater staff find your behavior worth noting. If you were a person of color, a 35 year old woman, or a teenager, your actions would have been met with more policing. That, sir, to use the million dollar buzzword, is privilege.
When I arrived to my seat in the theater that evening, an elderly couple to my right was in the middle of a conversation about how young people have no theater etiquette. “It’s a shame,” the husband said. “No one teaches them how to behave anymore.” Woe to us, the lost generation! Alas, the under-30 audiences who just can’t seem to understand that live performance entails shutting your trap for 90 minutes and putting away your phones!
Never mind that every time a cell phone goes off during a performance, I can safely bet that the culprit’s a Blanche Devereaux look-alike with brightly-hued hair, or a large Rex Tillerson type with one of those snap phone cases attached to his belt. Never mind that I’ve seen middle school groups behave with more courtesy and enthusiasm than some season subscribers. No, it’s the young ones who ruin it all.
Everyone was talking about your rude behavior on their way out of the theater, but to my surprise they didn’t condemn it. A group of friends nearly jumped at each other with big smiles and jaws dropped, recapping the awkward final moments of the show. I saw a chance to commiserate and quickly summed up my thoughts (a basic 10-second summary of this article). They replied, “Well I thought it was hilarious.”
It takes a village to ruin a curtain call.
Now look, sir. I know what it’s like to hate a show. You just happened to attend a play by the notoriously divisive Annie Baker. Her stuff’s not for everyone. But that’s the extent of my sympathy for you here. Unlike her longer plays, “The Antipodes” clocks in at a mere 90 minutes, so let’s not presume that it was a terrible test of your stamina. That shouldn’t matter. I’ve longed for many an hour of my life back, finding the dirt under my fingernails far more attractive than whatever plodding development was happening on stage. But I’ve maintained a semblance of adult composure, at least until intermission when I wake myself up with some candy, or in worst cases, quietly leave the show.
If there are rules to spectatorship, and I want as few of them as possible, they would be: 1) respect the rest of the audience and 2) respect the actors. You got away with breaking both of these rules because your behavior was perceived as entertaining. Because you’re in a position of power to judge others and not turn that judgment on yourself. Because the staff and audience of the theater doesn’t see your presence in the theater as an anomaly or an intrusion.
I hope your future experiences at the theater are happier, for your sake and mine…and the actors’. In the mean time, I hope I’ll have something ready to say the next time some old, white person complains about my generation’s rude, undignified behavior.
Update: I’m shutting down comments after leaving them open for about a week. I started feeling like they were a bit repetitive and some were quite hateful. I took them seriously, even the hateful ones, and responded to them with as much seriousness and thought as I could muster.