Michael Kape (a/k/a Grumpy Olde Guy®)
It was an absolute first for me—seeing a show in Los Angles where the audience didn’t automatically give a standing ovation immediately after a performance (as opposed to rushing to their cars to beat the traffic on the Hollywood Freeway—always a nightmare). The audience had just finished watching a musical (on its pre-Broadway tour) so stultifying bad even the Los Angeles audience couldn’t muster anything more than a smattering of light applause to acknowledge the herculean effort by the actors forced to struggle through the material.
No. One. Stood.
Not even for the popular actress carrying the weight of this misguided musical on her back.
Los Angeles audiences stand for everything, no matter how bad it might be. When I lived in Atlanta, those audiences stood for everything no matter how bad it was. Then, unfortunately, this trend came into New York City from the road, and Broadway audiences (maybe a lot of tourists, perhaps?) and started giving every show—good or bad—a standing ovation.
Well, I don’t stand (usually).
Standing ovations date back to Roman times, when the crowds would stand to acknowledge a less-than-successful effort made by armies marching back into Rome with their collective tails between their legs. It wasn’t about saluting an extraordinary effort. It was essentially saying, “Well, you tried. You failed. Better luck next time.” Hmm, maybe the Romans were onto something (or maybe they had also witnessed that same pre-Broadway tour 2500 years earlier).
Over the centuries, the Standing O has (or had) signified acknowledgement of a stupendous, amazing, extraordinary performance (eg, like seeing Hamilton for the first time or hearing the late Barbara Cook warble Ice Cream from She Loves Me). I stand for such performances. Unfortunately, most audiences have unintentionally devolved to the original meaning of the Standing O. They stand for just about anything.
“Oh, I’m acknowledging the effort made by the cast,” I’ve been told. “They put in all that work and I want them to know how much I appreciate it.”
Bullshit. That’s why you applaud. It should NOT be why you automatically stand.
Usually at the end of a show, I’m sitting, applauding, and waiting while those around me give a Standing O to a mediocre performance. Or I’m rushing out the door to beat the traffic because I have a long drive home.
More often than not, I’ve seen members of the audience immediately jump out of their seats the second the stage lights fade to black on a final scene. They’re already on their feet before the lights come back up again and anyone has taken a bow. What, are they giving the scenery a Standing O? That’s how ridiculous you look to a grumpy guy like me.
Audiences have cheapened the meaning of the Standing O. It’s no longer about acknowledging the superior work. It’s about getting up and heading to the restroom before the line gets too long. It’s about getting some blood flowing to your feet after sitting for nearly three hours (well, that long for interminable musicals without intermissions).
In the past several years, I’ve seen flops on Broadway where the audience immediately rose to its feet at the end, even though the show was truly awful (unfortunately, one of those was a show in which I had invested—and lost—a lot of money). I did not stand. I do not stand. I won’t stand. I acknowledge a good performance with enthusiastic applause. I acknowledge a lousy performance in one of two ways—polite applause or walking out at intermission (wanna ask me about Wicked?).
I don’t stand. If you do, why? Isn’t your applause sufficient? If it isn’t, then you should stand. And if the show is truly awful (don’t even mention CATS—now and forever), then keep your keister planted in the seat and wait for the house lights to come up. Then you can stand … and leave.
Grumpy Olde Guy® over and outta here to remove myself from the stench of the last stinker I witnessed.
Michael Kape, a/k/a the Grumpy Olde Guy® of All Things Broadway, has been involved all aspects of theatre since the age of six. He has acted, designed, worked backstage, produced, and spent seven years on the Dark Side as a theatre critic and 15 years as a television critic. In his spare time, he yells at young whippersnappers to stay off his lawn; they never listen to him.