Let’s treat the theatre as a sacred space

Financial Vice President's report

Volume 123, No. 2February, 2023

Karen Fisher

The work we do at Local 802 on behalf of our members has been and remains both a great challenge and a great joy, but it leaves little time to enjoy the fruits of our labor. As I began my fifth year as financial vice president, I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen a show or heard a concert. So, to start the New Year right, I treated myself and my husband to tickets to “Into the Woods” on New Year’s Day. (This Broadway revival closed on Jan. 8 and is about to start its U.S. tour.)

The show, which had garnered much critical acclaim, did not disappoint. The cast, and of course, the live, 17-piece Encores! Orchestra were stellar. It was wonderful to see the musicians on stage in full view and showcased as an important and integral part of the show instead of hidden away in the pit.The show was so good that it overcame the one gripe we had about it: the behavior of our fellow audience members.

Maybe this is generational and maybe I’m a curmudgeon, but attending live theatre should feel different from watching a football game or sitting in front of the TV. Every time you leave your house, there’s a pretty good chance that you are going to encounter someone doing something stupid, offensive, outrageous, dangerous, or all of the above. We all know this. That is the price we pay for living and especially for living in our great, diverse, densely populated city. But when, exactly, did audience decorum go completely out the window? As my husband and I sat squished in our tiny seats, we witnessed some truly ridiculous behavior going on around us. Behind us was a family of five. As we waited for the downbeat, we were treated to a long discussion about the food, or “food” purchased at the concession stand, notably a can of Pringles that had apparently fallen and rolled away. Mom got up and tried to find said Pringles, each time treating the back of my head to a graze by one of her body parts that I really don’t want to think about. Daughter one whined more than once, “I can’t believe they don’t have cup holders!” Dad chimed in that it felt like sitting on an airplane (the one observation I could agree with) and the seats were so small because “these theatres are old and people were smaller back then.” My husband and I looked at each other incredulously but were not amused, as we anticipated that this would go on during the show. Happily, the chatter stopped once the show started, but there was more. The kid sitting next to my husband decided to click the lid of her drink open and closed so many times that he had to tell her to stop. The companion of the person next to me showed up to be seated just as the lights were coming down, causing everyone in the row to gather their things, shuffle out of the row, and regroup at the last minute.

I must have missed the memo, but since when has it been O.K. to bring food and drink into the house of a Broadway show? At $130 and up for a ticket, it would be nice not to have to be concerned with the possibility of someone dropping a Grande Latte on your head as they squeeze into the seats behind you. This show, this moment, may be life changing for someone and that memory shouldn’t be of their neighbor’s nachos landing in their lap. There may be a budding star of the stage or a future concertmaster sitting in the audience. Let’s give them a chance to fully experience the performance without distractions.

A Broadway show is a special occasion and it should feel that way. Even now, my heart pounds with excitement when the house lights go down, heralding the start of a journey that everyone in that space is about to take together. By all means, come to the theatre. It’s worth every penny. But keep the food and drink in the lobby. Phones off. Stadium seating would take the fear of winding up behind a basketball team out of the equation. As artists, we study, sacrifice, dream, and pray to be on a Broadway stage. As audience members, we travel from near and far, at great expense to experience something singular ,special and only available in that one, unique, moment. Let’s respect that and honor the hard work, talent, and lifetime commitment of our artists. The Pringles can wait.