Further thoughts: How Our World and Our Theatre Are Going to Hell In A Handbasket

by Lynn on January 4, 2024

in The Passionate Playgoer

Recently I wrote what I called a ‘Rant’ on how our world and our theatre is going to hell in a handbasket.

https://slotkinletter.com/?s=Rant%2C+How+our+World+and+our+Theatre+is+going+to+hell

Maja Ardal—an accomplished, gifted theatre maker—disagreed that it was a rant and suggested it was a thoughtful essay, or a thoughtful reflection (offered by Robert Girvan, another measured reader). Fair enough. I will call these “thoughtful essays or reflections” in future.

Here is the latest, continuing on with the theme of how the pandemic has made it difficult for people to come back to being civil and kind to each other.

Herbie Barnes, the wonderful Artistic Director of Young People’s Theatre in Toronto, outlined his concerns in his programme note to his lovely production of It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, when he gave reasons for programming this play for the holidays:

“As we programmed our 2023.24 season—over a year ago—we had to try to foresee what might be of most importance for young people. Immediately post-pandemic (last season) we focused on bringing back joy.

When we selected It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play as our holiday offering, we had already noticed something else—the struggle that so many faced in re-learning how to share space with one another. Altercations on our transit systems, in our classrooms and on our streets started to appear in headlines.

Our time of isolation made us forget that we are a community and that we need each other to exist. It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is a shining example of that simple fact. George Bailey spends his whole life giving to his neighbours. And in this play, his community is finally able to return that generosity.”

Herbie Barnes, Artistic Director, Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

And here is something completely different.

In New York City for Broadway and Off Broadway shows the theatre programmes are printed in a publication called Playbill. For about a year I’ve noted that there is a letter from the President of Playbill to the theatre patrons. Here it is in its entirety:

“Dear Friends,

Welcome back to the theatre! As you all know, theatre is a shared human experience. It is made and managed by dedicated, caring people. All the professionals working in this theatre are there to help you. They are trained and knowledgeable, and want you to have the best experience at the show.

We know some of you have been away from our theatres for some time, and we welcome you back with open arms. As audience members, you are essential to this theatrical experience—the show could not go on without you. You are an important part of the show by helping maintain the sanctity of this space.

                        SO TO HELP YOU (AND THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU)

                     HAVE THE BEST TIME, WE PLEASE ASK THAT YOU:

  • Always cooperate with the ushers and front-of-house staff. They are there to help you, keep an orderly environment, and ensure the show begins on schedule.
  • Turn off your cell phone. All the way off…
  • Unwrap all candies now and refrain from loud eating during the performance.
  • Treat all theatre staff you see with respect and kindness. They want you to have a great time, and they deserve respect and a positive work environment.
  • Be engaged with the show! But also respectful of the people around you and do not make any overly disruptive comments.
  • Do not sing along with the actors. It distracts your fellow theatregoers and is not thoughtful.
  • Do not engage with the actors or musicians working in the show. Only engage if they encourage you to, and please do not distract them at any time during the performance.
  • Stop drinking alcohol immediately if you’re feeling tipsy. Drink some water.
  • Be patient with the restroom lines. We know they’re long and space is tight. But do not become pushy or rude. Everyone will get their turn.
  • Relax, sit back and enjoy the show! Once again, we could not be here without you.”

Sincerely,

Philip S. Birsh

President and Chairman

Playbill Inc

These two statements represent two different points of view.  For reflection.

NOTE: Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.

Leave a Comment

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stephen Woodjetts January 4, 2024 at 10:12 pm

Ah, remember the good old days, when people went to the theatre, shut their mouths and entered the world of the play? Then talked about it afterward? Good or bad, theatre took them out of their world and into another, with thought, with energy, with challenge. Leave your food, phones, and the world outside OUTSIDE. You might just have an experience that will change your life.

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2 Jess Hungate January 5, 2024 at 11:45 am

Thanks Lynn. But I don’t see how these are “different points of view” in the sense we normally understand that phrase – they can be perfectly consistent with each other, just emphasizing different “points of the compass”. Our real need, I suggest, is to continue communicating with/speaking and listening with each other, when the points of view are strongly opposed to each other. In that circumstance, perhaps we need rather LESS “theatre” than quiet, thoughtful, respectful, interaction…..

Just a thought.

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3 A.S. January 5, 2024 at 12:07 pm

Thank you for this thoughtful letter Ms. Slotkin. Have you ever considered posting some of these theatre musings for a wider audience? There’s a popular theatre community in the U.K. (http://theatreboard.uk.co) where I’m sure some of your ideas and insights about civility would be much appreciated. In fact, there’s a thread called “Bad Behavior at a Show” that you’d probably also enjoy reading.

Anyways, Happy New Year and keep ’em coming.

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4 A.S. January 5, 2024 at 6:05 pm

I fudged the link to the amusing and informative read at the online discussion at “theeatreboard” about “bad behaviour at a show” https://theatreboard.co.uk/board/1/general-chat

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5 Carly Street January 6, 2024 at 9:45 am

Hey Lynn,

Thanks for the post!

I was at “Natasha & Pierre” a couple of weeks ago, and the young person sitting beside me was singing and dancing along and gesturing – like they were conducting the show! I was bewildered. It was SO distracting, but I felt ashamed of myself for being annoyed with them.

I didn’t say or do anything, but I resolved in myself that I thought it was “thoughtless” of them to only consider their experience of the show.

I appreciate Birsh’s use of that word in his note to his patrons. It’s a great barometer when considering one’s actions. I hope to make “thoughtfulness” a prevailing intention of 2024.

And the show was bloody amazing, regardless!

Happy New Year, Lynn.

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6 A.S January 6, 2024 at 11:55 am

A review of the musical you discuss referred to it as a “foot stomping troika ride.”

https://x.com/mrrwmart/status/1738577815937675401?s=46

And interestingly the artistic director of Crows theatre retweeted that review (although sadly he didn’t retweet Ms Slotkins mostly favourable review for some reason) I guess they try to encourage people to have fun at the show. It’s good for business.

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