“To help us better understand your level of satisfaction with our presentation please: give us a standing ovation if you are incredibly satisfied, a seated applause if you are satisfied, and complete silence if you are rather indifferent… and (dare I say…) a vocal ‘boo’ if you were unsatisfied.”
I’ve recently been enjoying a twitter conversation between theatre reviewers in Toronto. Sparked by my post CANADIAN THEATRE CAN DO BETTER, I of course, wanted to take a peek and see what these individuals thought.
They seemed most interested in talking about Canadian theatre goers tendency to reward just about any performance with a standing ovation. Now, the standing ovation is about the highest form of respect an audience member can give a performance, so then: Why do standing ovations happen so regularly? It seems like we’ve somehow, over many decades, convinced our audiences that a standing ovation is the only right way to respond.
I am speaking generally here (as I tend to do), but this doesn’t exactly seem fair to me. This whole abundance of standing ovations. It makes me question whether the performance I gave, or the production I directed or produced genuinely deserved that ovation or if it was, as @wyl81 calls it, “The Compulsory Canadian Standing O”.
So I got to thinking (as I also tend to do), and I came up with this idea. For my next production (Proof, June 2013), I am going to put an insert into every program that reads something like this: “Mnemonic Theatre Productions values our audience’s true response to our productions. Your honesty helps us to improve and create better, more effective work. To help us better understand your level of satisfaction with our presentation please: give us a standing ovation if you are incredibly satisfied, a seated applause if you are satisfied, and complete silence if you are rather indifferent… and (dare I say…) a vocal ‘boo’ if you were unsatisfied.”
A problem I see with this is in potentially offending our audience, being perceived as sanctimoniously informing them how to be good audience members. However, I believe that if I voice the suggestions as a desire for us to improve our work (which it is) I think audiences will respond positively. The other flaw in this idea is that the ones at the front line of receiving these audience responses are the actors. Thank God I typically employ actors who can check their ego at the door and who understand that theatre, being what it is, is beyond one person’s individual performance. The responses they receive are a collective summation of how the audience members perceived the entirety of the production.
Here’s the thing, I don’t really want to receive a standing ovation if it isn’t earned. I want to be a part of a community that has a stake in what they choose to see. I realize that the received responses from audience members may not cause rapid change in a production that has taken months to produce and rehearse. I can, however, use those responses, as general as they may be, as data to be used in planning for my next production. This is, of course, how companies test their products. We, as theatre creators, no longer have the luxury of weeks of previews. We have to find a way of making audiences a part of our process. This is the answer I have come up with. I will report back with my findings.
Thanks to @broadwaybabyto @wyl81 @@nestruck and @tinarasmussen for your insightful discussion regarding “The Compulsory Canadian Standing O”.