The Playgoer: Drink-Friendly Theatre

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Drink-Friendly Theatre

I just heard Charles Isherwood--on his weekly WQXR chat--say, "Theatre is becoming very drink friendly these days."

He's right. From Broadway houses, where the bars sell drinks in take-to-your-seat plastic sippy-cups, to downtown experimental fare, like "Sleep No More" (the specific show Isherwood was referencing) spectators are being increasingly allowed--nay, encouraged--to imbibe during the show.

I see two factors in play here.

One: concessions income! As every performance venue knows, you can make more at the bar than at the box office.

Two: making theatre more an event than a "performance" that implies audience showing up only to watch actors. Hence the handing out of free wine at New York Theatre Workshop's recent Three Pianos.

I don't think this is a bad trend, by the way. Do you?


Anonymous said...

Not as long as Isherwood indicates precisely how sloshed he was during the performance alongside his review. You know, next to the three-or-four stars, maybe three-or-four shot glasses? Personally I'm looking forward to shared bongs at performances of "Sleep No More" (for medicinal purposes only, of course). I'm sure it all make more sense after a few hits. I mean nude scenes, plus shots, PLUS weed - that's a cultural trend I can get behind!

Brian said...

Yes, it is a bad idea, not in practice, perhaps, but in spirit.

Theater is already supposed be an experience--or event, if you prefer--separate from sports or movies or even the opera.

In old theaters around the world, you find a lack of creature comforts in the seats, because it was supposed to be a place where the audience wasn't expected to be comfortable. Much like a church, you were supposed to sit up and pay attention.

Some people may find that idea too hifalutin, or chide me for not being trendy enough in this social media-driven world.

But let's not pretend to have respect for the theater then. Would this behavior be appropriate in a house of worship (and if you want to cry communion, keep in mind you must get up out of your seats and have the booze administered to you)? Would it be appropriate at that day job you hate, in the classroom you're trying to graduate from, or even allowed on the subway or at the local multiplex where you will watch a sequel to a sequel of a sequel?

If we respect the theater any less than these places, how can we claim not to be philistines, or how can we respect ourselves for catering to them?

If this argument doesn't sway, then let me say as a young playwright I poured my heart and soul into a fetal little script. It was nothing great, but it never hurt anybody. I worked longer hours and typed more words trying to find someone to simply read the play than I did even writing it. But I loved the little thing, and so I wanted to put in the effort.

When a couple actors and a rinky-dink company decided to stage it for three nights in a hovel of a black box I didn't mind that only five people showed up.

What I minded was that one of them was drunk and that he and his friends decided to catcall the actors during the performance and have phone conversations on their cells.

Had this happened in a Broadway house and this idiot had been outnumbered by hundreds of people, removing him still would have ruined the show.

I am a peaceful man, but will never forget that person and will forever hope he burns in hell, even should he attempt to atone for it by nursing starving orphans at his own teat.

Do most people get drunk at the theater? No. But why do we want anything in common with them? Drink before the show. Drink at intermission. Go out afterwards. But while you're in the sacred space, try to be better than you have to be.

If you want an "event," that's what monster truck rallies are for.

Sorry for the rambling rant.

Playgoer said...

Apologies to "Sleep No More" for calling them "Say No More". Duly corrected. (say no more, wink, wink....)

Jack Worthing said...

The English have been doing this since the dawn of time. You can't legislate for assholes but it generally works fine. What's the big deal?

cgeye said...

Simple. Americans have never known how to drink.

We binge, when we can, when we're allowed, and get very angry when anyone tries to tell us "no". Also, at a quiet, cozy spot, it's nice to be snockered for 1.5 to 2 hours, zone out, then sober up in time for the drive home (and that's the other thing -- everywhere else has great public transport, so that theatre time *has* to be spent drinking as early as possible, then recovering).

So we have an event that becomes more of a digestive than a transformative experience in and of itself. And we complain about theatre becoming more like TV -- when audiences want it that way, what right have we to complain?

Anonymous said...

to be fair, you can't drink DURING the experience at sleep no more.

And also to be fair - the wine at Three Pianos was completely within the device of the play.

Let's not confuse something to make a point.

Tsk Tsk!

Anonymous said...

You're the one who's missing the point. Diane Paulus and Randy Weiner had a hand in the mounting of "Sleep No More" in New York, as they did in Boston. It's widely believed they got a substantial portion of the bar tab from that show, as they do from their second space at the ART - which they program, as a result, with cabaret and burlesque shows which enable them to serve drinks throughout the show. I wouldn't be surprised if they have the same deal with "Sleep No More" in New York - at which patrons can stop at any time, of course, for another drink. So that idea about rating shows with shot glasses was far from a joke, because these productions are basically designed as models of liquor delivery. The artistic content is secondary.

Anonymous said...

Widely believed by whom? You're whole post sounds like you're either connected, or a little too cloak and dagger.

And you're right - bar stays open for most of the night. How does that differ from Joe's Pub? Or any number of other venues that offer programming and alcohol?

I'm wary that your'e so quick to confuse a producers motives with artistic content. Especially in this case. Certainly not the forum to duke this out and I'd be happy to via email.

Anonymous said...

As an actor, I consider this a wretched and lamentable idea or trend, if that's what it's becoming. In live theatre, we actors have enough concentration-destroying elements to work through. Here are some I've experienced while on the stage: Crinkly candy wrappers, audience conversations, ear-piercing hearing-aid feedback, dropped handbags (which, to judge by the amount of noise they produce, always seem to contain their owners' anvil collections), late arrivals, early departures, mid-act bathroom breaks, coughs, whispers, texting, ringing cell phones, flash photography, and a long etcetera of other obstacles to performance quality, not to mention the adverse effect on enjoyment by those very audience members and the others. Drinks with clinking ice, even in plastic cups, are the last things we up there, or the rest of the audience, need. One more noise, one more thing to be dropped, one more disturbance while the miscreant disturbs everybody around her and the rest of the audience as well, by futilely attempting to pick up the spilled milk (wine, booze, soda pop, whatever). BIG FAT NO! to this.

Anonymous said...

"Widely believed" by anybody who read the stories about it in the press. And is the bar tab from Joe's Pub going right into Oskar Eustis's pocket? I don't think so. And why be "wary" about making common-sense observations about a producer's financial motives? Something tells me you're the one who's connected. Say hi to Diane and Randy for me.