Friday, June 16, 2017

For Your Thoughtful Consideration: Don't Talk Throughout the Show, Don't Text During the Movie, Arrive on Time, Wait for the Pitch and Other Ways to Respect Those Around You -- With a Code of Conduct for Live Events

Last night, I attended a free performance of William Shakespeare's Richard III at Indian Boundary Park in Chicago.

Presented by the Fury Theater, this was part of the Chicago Park District's Night Out in the Parks program.

With about 30 people and one large dog assembled on blankets and sling chairs in front of the park's impressive field house--which served as the play's only piece of scenery--it was a decidedly more relaxed environment then indoor theater or even ticketed shows al fresco.

Although, as usual, my rapt attention and plotline comprehension were challenged by the Shakespearean language--and I won't be writing a formal review--I was tremendously impressed by the troupe of young performers' obvious dedication in delivering a 3-hour drama with fine acting and quite passable dialects. (Performances run through tomorrow).

But throughout the first act, a couple of guys sitting near me engaged in ongoing conversation that made me want to scream, "STFU!" and prompted me to move my chair for Act II. (Shut the F up, for those needing the long version.)

I don't know that the chatterboxes were loud enough for the performers to hear, but they consistently impinged on my concentration and enjoyment.

As noted, this was a relatively low-key affair, and typical theater taboos such as audience members occasionally taking a picture, checking one's phone, having a snack or knitting throughout the show didn't seem too egregious. (Being in an O'Hare flight path also offered acoustical challenges.)

Richard III by the Fury Theatre,
during which a couple of patrons openly chatted away.
As Act II was beginning, a friend who lives near the park stopped by and I--now sitting a good distance from any other patrons--felt fine in softly exchanging a few pleasantries.

So I don't mean to sound like a scold, tyrannical librarian or killjoy, but I think deference should always be paid to those putting on a performance and those wishing to enjoy it without undue distraction.

Yet at least from where I often find myself sitting, it seems rudeness abounds.

I have long been comfortable going to concerts, theater, sporting events and movies by myself, and perhaps not having anyone to talk to has made me (hyper?) sensitive to conversations happening around me.

But with the cost and effort involved in going to almost any type of live event, I don't understand why people insist on carrying on casual conversations that distract from their focus, let alone mine.

Again, what I'm whining about is overt inconsiderateness, not a few occasional words with one's friend, wife, etc.

Monday night I went to see Elvis Costello at the Huntington Bank Pavilion with my frequent concert and theater mate, Paolo. I am not suggesting we sat there in abject silence. Part of the fun of going with a companion is the ability to banter--slyly,  softly, between songs!!! and topically:

"The acoustics are really good."

"Was that one he wrote with Burt Bacharach?"

"Steve Nieve is amazing."

But while the songs are being sung, I would tell even Paolo to STFU, although like me, he's busy singing along reverentially.

I've said repeatedly, and not facetiously, that rock concerts--and other cultural art forms--are, for me, akin to religion. I am not condemning those who, non-disruptively, go to socialize, drink, hang out, be seen, etc., but I don't.

While each song being played might not be my favorite, how do I know it's not that of somebody sitting nearby? And the people onstage always deserve to be heard more than I do.

So I don't think it's ever proper to talk over the music. 

As Elvis Costello plaintively sang this classic Monday
night, some audience members opted to loudly converse.
Yet during a portion of the show where Elvis Costello was playing some of his most contemplative songs--including the plaintive "Almost Blue"--accompanied only by pianist Nieve, there were people around us carrying on conversations quite loudly and continuously.

To which some might say, "Why don't you ask them to quiet down?"

Occasionally I do, but I've typically found that those who thoughtlessly engage in rude chattering aren't those prone to apologetically honor a polite request to "Please keep it down."

So it tends to become more hassle than it's worth.

Hence, I'm writing this article, realizing that it's really only venting. (If you haven't noticed, the Seth Saith masthead is meant to represent a black hole.)

Now before I get too preachy, let me admit that while I always aim to be mindful of other fans around me, and respectful to those onstage, I myself may not be someone you wish to sit next to.

At concerts, I tend to take a good number of photos--mostly on a small, silent digital camera--so that I have some useful ones for blog posts, and typically take and share one iPhone photo on Facebook.

At many theater performances, I jot down notes in a small notebook to aid my recollection in writing reviews.

Though I try to be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible, I realize that anyone doing anything unusual nearby can unintentionally dilute one's locked-in focus, and if anyone asks me to stop, I do.

No one has, at least not since a few years back at a concert when I was writing notes into my phone. A man nearby thought I was incessantly texting, and perhaps the phone's light was distracting to him, so I stopped doing so. Now I'll discreetly use a pen and notebook, even at concerts if I wish to notate something.

So I certainly appreciate that some people may just be oblivious and not intentionally rude. Others, through no real fault of their own, may not know the proper decorum.

At a recent performance of My Fair Lady at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, a couple teenage boys, clearly in attendance at the behest of their parents and disinterested in Eliza Doolittle, were talking, checking phones, giggling, etc.

This annoyed me to the point of moving to another seat, but I blame the parents more than the kids.

Matt Davidson's grand slam for the Chicago White Sox on June 13.
If he had hit it on the previous pitch, my view and photo would have
been blocked by patrons returning to their seats at a bad time.
So the point here isn't to condemn anyone for being human or having fun or acting like a teenager--even if they're 70--it's to suggest that if you're at an event with performers onstage and others watching, do your best to be courteous and considerate.

Life happens, and there are always understandable exceptions, but largely off the top of my head, the following would comprise my:

Code of Conduct for Live Events

Arrive on time and find your seat at least 10 minutes before the performance starts. I get that work, kids, babysitters, traffic, transit, etc. can be a challenge, but in having gone to over 2,000 live events (concerts, theater, ballgames, etc.), I remember being late just once. And it still bothers me that I missed the first song of Beauty and the Beast due to a 2-hour traffic jam on the Eisenhower back in 2001. So it boggles me that at every show I go to, people straggle in past the ticketed time, struggle to locate their seats, climb over people across the row, and then--at concerts and ballgames--often get right back up to go get beer.

● Stop talking and turn off your phone before any part of the performance begins. The Overture isn't a yellow light. It's a red light. Shut up and focus, or appreciate that others wish to. (This is a theater tip, but courtesy at concerts and ballgames is never a bad thing.)

● Do not carry on conversations during any type of show. If you need to say something quickly, whisper, ideally between songs or scenes. I don't care if it's Hamilton or a children's dance recital, Metallica or Shakespeare in the park, people are there to focus on what's being presented. Be mindful of that. If you're disinterested, still be polite & respectful or discreetly step out.

● Turn your phone off, completely, at the theater--including movie theaters. Unlike some, I still love seeing films on the big screen, and I often try to go at uncrowded times. Still, I invariably encounter people unable to spend 2 hours in the dark, without their phone emitting bothersome light. And at live theaters, don't be that person who thinks they've silenced their phone only to have it ring--in the most loathsome way at the most inopportune time.

● Don't constantly go in and out of your row. I get it, people like to drink. And people have to pee. Often these go hand in hand. But the more times you leave your seat--to get beer, and then naturally, to go the john--the more times you make everyone else stand up to let you out. Enjoy yourself, but consider that others are trying to focus a bit more seriously.

● At sporting events, leave & return to your seats at a proper juncture. Tuesday night I was at the White Sox game against the Orioles, in a good box seat belonging to my friend. The Sox were up 2-1 in the 6th inning and had the bases loaded. Matt Davidson was at the plate. During a pitch, people in front returned to their seats and blocked my view, oblivious to the game action, or others' interest. On the next pitch, Davidson hit a grand slam. I know it wasn't the World Series, but even there people seemed unaware about impinging on the visibility and focus of other fans.

● Respect the fans behind you in deciding whether to stand up. I know this is a tough one. I've been at concerts where I wanted to stand, and everyone was sitting. I've been at others where I was happy to sit, but one person was standing in front of me. I respect the passion, fandom, desire to dance, etc., but I think courtesy has to rule the day.

● Don't shout stupid stuff at the performers. I couple years I saw Neil Young do a solo acoustic at the Chicago Theatre, marred by idiots rather frequently screaming out indecipherable song requests, bellowing "I love you, Neil!" at inappropriate junctures and other such nonsense. I get sometimes wanting to hear favorite songs not being played, but respect the performer you paid to see and never make the show about you.

● Think of others. And be receptive to polite requests. As I tried to candidly note above, nobody gets it right all the time, and some may have differing perspectives that infuse their actions. But just try to be respectful of those onstage (or on the field, etc.) and those sitting around you. If somebody asks you to keep it down, or not take photos, or turn off your phone, or to sit down, don't respond belligerently. Apologize as appropriate, and if you think they're impinging on your enjoyment, politely try to find an alternate solution, like changing seats if possible.

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