theatrical fads that drive me crazy

For about a 10-year period, you couldn’t sit in a theater audience without the production flashing lights in your eyes.  Didn’t matter whether it was URINETOWN or TOM STOPPARD’S ROCK AND ROLL or MAN OF LA MANCHA or DEATH OF A SALESMAN (OK, that’s an exaggeration, but not much of one): every production I saw tried to trigger migraines or epileptic fits.

Next, in every play, there was a character giving a lecture, not a diatribe or monologue or polemic, but a character playing a professor or religious leader or team captain giving an honest-to-god lecture as if the audience were the students or flock or rugger scrum.  At no other point in the play was the fourth wall dropped than this one, long, embarassing lecture.

Suddenly, all plays are miked, it seems.  Perhaps a wealthy patron has been flattered into donating a sound system. And there appear to be very, very few competent sound technicians, so the sound is uneven, or the singing is twenty times louder than the book scenes.  I understand that enormous venues require amplification, but small ones don’t, unless there aren’t actors and singers who can project any more. To quote a good friend and heckuva director/actor, if I want to hear voices through a speaker, I’ll go to the movies or turn on the radio.

These days, many new plays comprise a series of 2-character scenes in which the characters argue and somebody wins the argument. I’m told this is what’s taught in playwrighting classes, I wouldn’t know, I still haven’t taken one of those, but it seems to be the basis of a lot of plays currently being produced.  I’m not saying they’re bad plays, just that seeing this convention over and over and over and over again drives me batty!

In a theater, what makes you nuts?
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10 thoughts on “theatrical fads that drive me crazy

  1. Love the comment about mic’ing productions. That has driven me nuts for years – seen it in high school productions and community theater both, and typically gets amplified over a stereo pair mounted high on either side of the proscenium so not only does the voice sound amplified rather than natural, it comes from a completely different place than the action. So annoying!!

  2. A comment from FB:
    “My current pet peeve is not in the written word, but in the audience experience. Several theaters in Seattle actual ENCOURAGE people to text message during the performance. When I saw Jimmy Carter speak a few months ago – I couldn’t see/hear for the hands being held up to iphone record and to snap, snap, snap pictures. I am afraid I am done with the live audience experience because of it. It may be hip, but it sure ain’t cool.”

  3. And another from FB, responding to the one above:
    I would say that I abhor the concept that one cannot be entertained without holding onto and using electronic devices. And, on a practical side: the older set are the ones with the bucks. Keep tweeting all you want, you’ll be sitting in a theater with limited resources to operate. I gave $1,000 last year to art groups – I would never – ever – give to a theater who encouraged this sort of boorish behavior. We don’t bring our TV’s in to a theater – we chastised people for years to turn off their freakin’ cells phones. It is bizarre that anyone associated with live theater would think that this is anywhere near a good idea. My humble opinion , of course. Keep theaters for intimate connection – keep your tweets to your surface shots. I find it interesting that your response could have been tweeted.

  4. Well, this has gotten lively:
    Fascinating. You have written exactly the sort of impassioned comment that inspired me to write my post in the first place.
    Good luck holding back the future.
    Two other recent comments on the same subject, both from the Guardian: and

  5. And from a different FB friend:
    yup- #1 for me is “amp-importance.” So many classical structures were built for amazing acoustics- it drives me nuts to see so much mike use!!

  6. And yet another FB remark:
    The plays I can tolerate…it’s the audience members texting…the lights are everywhere…and then they are slurping their drinks or rattling paper. I feel more like I’m in the movies than the theater anymore.

  7. And another, wish they’d all just comment here!

    the whole “four characters gather for a nice dinner then argue for 90 minutes without intermission” seems a bit played out.

  8. Yep, more comments from FB:

    The idea that we should allow the audience to engage in any behavior of their choosing, to encourage, and to accommodate such behavior, even when antithetical to the basic tenets of the relationship between audience and performer, seems a slippery slope. To justify this in the name of putting butts in the seats is a little like saying: “No new taxes.” It sounds great, but what quality of life does it lead to? Frankly, I’d rather have one engaged, moved, impassioned audience member than a house full of disaffected hipsters who are each starring in their own private Idunno. Odds are you’re operating at a huge loss either way, so why not go all in?

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