25 September 2011

"You with the camera?"

I am an out of the closet theater snob.

I'm actually quite blunt about it. Hopefully not in a way that drives people crazy, but when I go to the theater - even the community variety - I find ways to let the people that I'm going with know that I dress for the occasion. This was something that was instilled in me both by my parents and my high school drama teacher who set the standard. When I saw my first big broadway show (Phantom of the Opera in second grade), my mom made me a new satin dress for the occasion. My high school drama teacher was the one who talked openly and frankly about respect for the arts, and how, even for auditions, you come dressed professionally. To this day, I tend to go to auditions dressed more formally than those around me who come in jeans and a clean shirt instead of the skirt and nice top I tend to wear.

This attitude leads to a healthy amount of frustration in me when those around me don't keep the same standard. To me, a night at the theater (or symphony, or other formal occasions) is something special. It costs a lot of money, it takes a huge amount of time and focus in performing no matter how professional the production, and it's an event that demands a different level of refined behavior.

Granted, I often find myself somewhat alone in this. I remember seeing The Lion King years ago with a friend who had invited me to come and see the show with her on the third row of the theater. You don't get seats much better than that. The man sitting down the row from me? Yeah, he came in a budweiser t-shirt and ripped jeans. I remember seeing a show last spring at a local high school in which a member of the audience had a camera and tripod out and took approximately 43 pictures with flash (not that I counted on my program or anything. . . ) in the second act alone without anyone telling him to stop. Clearly, the "night out to the theater" mentality is not shared by all.

(I suppose I should mention here that very horrible, dark, embarrassing part of my past in which I, as a traveler to London, found myself with tickets to Wicked and no time to take the Tube back to my flat to change before the show started. I attended the show in jeans and heard - because irony is like that - the couple behind us talking about awful tourists who attend shows in jeans. I wanted to jump up and shout "I'm not normally like this!! I'm so embarrassed!" but refrained. . . )

Really, though, I think it all stems back to the honor and love I've always had for the arts. For that time I have to turn off my phone (good luck trying to reach me - ever - if I'm rehearsing for a show) and to dress up and feed my soul. I don't understand why a person would spend upwards of $50 for a night at the theater and then spend it with their nose in a Facebook feed on their smartphone (re: girl next to me last night at the symphony.)

But if you're still reading - this is where it gets good. Last night I witnessed something truly awesome. I've heard of things like this happening (and have felt tempted to do it myself - re: the woman who came to the front of the stage when I was Wilbur in Charlotte's Web and took pictures with a disposable camera), but have never actually seen it until now. It was fantastic. It was so choice. I wish I had a video of it - but that would be somewhat counter-productive, as evidenced by the following:

I went to the symphony last night to hear one of my favorite pieces (Beethoven's Emperor Concerto). The guest artist had just started playing the first movement when I saw him turn his head toward the audience and glare bullets right at. . . something. Couldn't tell what. He mouthed something, but I couldn't tell what it was. I was just looking for the smoke from the ash remains of whoever had just burst into flame under the power of that glare. After the first movement ended, the guest artist paused, turned and looked right at the audience member again, and said quite sternly: "You with the camera? What we are doing is very difficult and takes a great deal of concentration, and you are distracting us and about two thousand other people who are here."

Oooooh yeah.

I clapped along with the rest of the hall and thought rather haughtily that I sincerely hope that said audience member (who had to have been sitting somewhere in the $50 ticket range) was embarrassed. And I hope - one student at a time - I can find a way to make a dent in the culture of theater going. "You will see people there dressed in jeans," I tell my students. "But it will never be you."

But maybe I'm just a snob.


A. Bailey said...

That is awesome. Where was the concert? And I LOVE that piece by Beethoven. It is one of my favorites too.

Joni said...

Abravenel Hall in Salt Lake City. It was unbelievable. SO good.

elliespen said...

De-lurking (I found your blog when Orson Scott Card linked to your wonderful essay on English departments) to say YES, YES, YES. I agree whole-heartedly and wish I could have been there to see that. (And I also was embarrassed for myself when I went to London for a weekend during my Study Abroad to Paris and ended up getting to go to Les Miserables but hadn't packed any type of suitable theater clothing. My husband and I went in our bulky travel coats and backpacker jeans and I simultaneously reveled in the show and writhed in agony for my wardrobe. Thankfully nobody within earshot commented on it.)

Joni said...

Elliespen -

Thanks for your comments, and welcome out of lurk-dom. I'm glad you agree!

Nanakat said...

Hmm. I don't think you would enjoy the Utah Shakespeare Festival very much, then, because they actually encourage casual attire for their performances (else why would they have a "Green Show" before each evening's performance that requires you to sit on the lawn to watch it?) -- not very conducive to tuxedos and furs or to silk and satin and diamonds and pearls.

By the way, the word verification for my comment today is "phillsi" and makes me think of "philistine" -- a term you may want to apply to my comment. But, you see, I hate to wear dresses and skirts, and will only wear them to church and to the temple.

Well, we can't agree on everything.

Joni said...

Actually, I enjoy the USF very much. I'm not uncomfortable dressing well for an event while other people are not, nor do I wear my Sunday best for every night out at the theater. I do, however, wear professional clothes. Nice slacks, no t-shirt, that sort of thing.