Quiet please, there’s a lady on stage.
She may not be the latest rage,
But she’s singing. She means it.
And she deserves a little silence.
– Lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager
Last February was production season in my community, perhaps in yours too. I, for one, was excited and proud: excited to participate in Harmony VI, a concert for and by women, and proud to attend my daughter’s high school play.
Yes, I was excited and proud — but I was also nervous, and stage fright (or stage motherhood) was not the culprit. Nor was audience rejection.
The culprit was audience adulation.
Last year, I attended a high school production (not, I hasten to add, in my community) and witnessed audience adulation at its worst. On stage were over 50 charming teens singing in harmony. Ninety seconds into the song, one student stepped forward for her 15-second solo. At its conclusion, hundreds of spectators applauded. A dozen of them whistled shrilly. Five hooted. And two bellowed, “WE LOVE YOU, ADINA!”
What’s wrong with this picture (or should I say soundtrack)? Let me count the ways. The outbursts:
- rendered the next 20 seconds of painstakingly rehearsed music inaudible, frustrating performers and patrons alike.
- flung a “can-you-top-this?” gauntlet, impelling the audience to ever heightening histrionics — and ever higher decibels.
- transformed a beautiful performance grounded in teamwork and unity into a popularity contest, with the student eliciting the most frenzied uproar declared the winner (albeit possibly a very embarrassed one).
Another culprit reared its ugly head at that production: the opposite of audience adulation, audience apathy. To my amazement, some people not only kept their cell phones on and answered them, they actually placed phone calls during the performance. And, to my sorrow, some audience members engaged in lengthy conversations throughout the performance — except when their daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin, sister or friend was in the spotlight.
Are these individuals mean? No. But they are certainly misguided. How I wish that they could have heard the principal’s words that prefaced another production I was privileged to witness:
“In order to ensure the professionalism of this evening’s production, we ask our honored audience the following: Please take a moment now to completely shut off your cell phones. Do not leave them on vibrate, as that interferes with the sound system. A moment now to please shut off your cell phones.
“Our players, actors, dancers, singers and backstage hands have worked fantastically hard these past few weeks to bring you a quality production. In order to show your appreciation for their hard work, we ask you the following: Please wait until the end of a scene — the end of the scene — for applauding, and show your appreciation through applause only. We cannot strictly enough state that to call out names of players, or to chant individual names, would cheapen our production, and we ask you not to allow that to happen.
“And now we proudly present our school production!”
The principal walked offstage. The curtain rose to reveal students standing in frozen positions.
Then an audience member’s voice rang out: “GO, MALKY!”
To her credit, the principal — who still had her microphone in hand — calmly said, “That is exactly the cheapening I was referring to.” Then the performance began, eliciting laughter, applause, joy and, thankfully, no further outbursts.
June is just around the corner, graduation season in my community, and probably in yours. As we await those happy occasions on which I pray we will all be privileged to see a loved one on stage — be they siddur parties, chumash plays, high school productions, graduations or community concerts — I respectfully ask prospective audience members to ask themselves these two questions:
- As proud as I am of my child, grandchild, nephew, niece, cousin, sibling or friend, as much as I want to express my love, might my outburst be a source of pain to someone else?
- Specifically, besides disturbing fellow audience members, might my cheerleading break the heart of another performer, one who (Heaven forbid) is an orphan, comes from a broken home, or has relatives in mourning, in short, one who lacks the luxury of a cheering squad?
If, deep in your heart, you know that the answer to both questions is yes, I promise you that from now on, no production you attend will ever be the same. For as you take your seat at future performances, and as the curtain begins to rise, you will say to yourself, “I am here to shep nachas from (feel proud of) every person who treads this stage.” Whether a dancer twirls or trips, whether a soloist sings on- or off-key, whether an actress enunciates or mumbles, you will feel your heart grow tender and your eyes grow misty. And when you applaud at the conclusion of each dance, song or scene, you will feel your heart overflowing with love.
Chava Willig Levy is a writer, editor and lecturer from Woodmere, NY. Her web site (http://www.chavawilliglevy.com) showcases her lectures, articles and editorial services; her blog, accessed via her web site’s “Talking to Myself” link, chronicles her latest adventures. Chava can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2006 Chava Willig Levy. All rights reserved.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.