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Classical Notes: June 24, 2007 Archive

Concert Rage, Part II

Posted at 1:15 PM on June 24, 2007 by Alison Young

Is it just me, or are people getting crankier at the theater? I posted a blog not too long ago about concert rage, which I think is now the official name for it since the Boston Pops Brawl last month. I had my own experience of a rage-filled concert-goer last night.

I went to see the Metropolitan Ballet perform new steps to Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream and reprise some old ones: the original Agnes de Mille's, to Copland's Rodeo. It was a splendid evening.

Sadly, the hall was only partly full, so the ushers "dressed the house" by moving the mass of us in the cheap seats into the center of the hall. They don't do this to give us a better view; it's so the performers have someone to dance and act to. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most enduring and successful comedies. If done well, whether played with his lines or in mime by talented dancers, it is marvelously funny, on the verge of slapstick. The audience acts as the performer's mirror. Our responses can embolden a performer, making their evening a delight rather than a chore. Laughter in a comedy gives perfomers the courage to ham it up and even take dramatic and technical risks. Performers love a lively audience and will give all they have to feed that energy.

But for some audience members the give-and-take of live performance is distressing. There came a moment last night when Puck leapt directly onto Lysander, struggling to not wake him while delicately balancing his lithe body on Lysander's upper thighs and shaking out his fairy dust. It was funny; I giggled; and I was blasted with a loud “SSSSHHHH!” from the young women seated behind me. I turned to her and said "It's ok to laugh, they like the encouragement!" To that my newest enemy countered "Actually, they don’t." While trying to calculate under which rock she had been living, I gently explained that we were watching comedy.

There wasn’t a brawl, but she must have realized an entire theater of people enjoying the comedy couldn’t be silenced, so she left. Too bad for her; it was an awesome (and very funny) evening.

Here's my advice: go to lots and lots of live theater, dance, readings, concerts, recitals and performances of all kinds. There's nothing like seeing accomplished artists at work directly in front of you. But arrive with an attitude that you are in a space shared by other people. You are not watching television or in the insular oblivion of your i-Pod. This is the real and lively world. Even at a serious event, there's bound to be some extraneous noise.

My other piece of advice is this: if something strikes you as particularly funny or fantastic, let it be known. A responsive and in-synch audience can make the experience transcendent. And a dead audience will very likely earn you a dead performance.