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Saturday, June 30, 2007


“In the best of all possible worlds it really would be wonderful if there were no entrance applause and even no applause within a show. But it’s part of the enthusiasm of American audiences.”

-Frank Langella, commenting on a common phenomenon that happens to be almost ruining his present show "Frost/Nixon." (I take it anyone else who's seen it on a packed night can attest.)

Funny how the evidence in this article at least seems to indicate that in this too the Brits really are better. At least according to Guardian critic Michael Billington:

Mr. Billington recently went to see.Patricia Routledge, a popular British television star [e.g. the PBS brit-com staple "Keeping Up Appearances"], in “Office Suite” at the Chichester Festival Theater. When she entered, he said, one person clapped, and was promptly shushed.
Chicago, too, is extolled as a model of decorum. But a key distinction is overlooked throughout simply between profit and non-profit venues. In London, "Frost/Nixon" played at the Donmar. Ms. Routledge was at Chichester, a state-supported festival, not on the West End. Ditto the examples cited from Steppenwolf; I'm sure audiences at the touring houses in the official Loop "theatre district" are just as clap-happy as Broadway.

To my mind, it really harkens back to a 19th century grandstanding tradition, where the star was just unabashedly the attraction and who the crowd came to see. Entrances and exits and death scenes were milked for all they were worth, and built into the show. Perhaps even with room for an encore or added interpolation. After all, we still have room in our vocabulary for something called "Stopping the Show," right?

Of course, the problem is when this pre-modern custom clashes with the fourth-wall of stage naturalism. Just another reason why that species of serious modern drama is jeopardized on today's Broadway. The Great White Way has reverted to its circus roots.


Anonymous said...

You're right about the Broadway in Chicago houses -- at least, Kathleen Turner got entrance applause in the touring production of "Virginia Woolf."

Kerry Reid

Anonymous said...

Two comments: First, there's no moment in even the most naturalistic play that the audience forgets it's a play and applauding a "star" hardly takes them out of the moment; arguably it puts them deeper into it because they are paying precisely to be in the moment with whomever that star is. It seems ludicrous to suggest that this pre-modern practice has anything to do with the jeopardized state of fourth-wall naturalism. Rather, the form itself is moribund and audienes know it. Actors may not like the interruption of applaus, and I personally find it crass, but I don't think it's rocket science to recognize an audience that is paying top dollar indicating - to themselves at least -- that they are getting their money's worth. Recognizing the star is part of that.