Thursday, July 07, 2016

The Big O

Here’s another theater trend I’ve noticed lately. Every performance of every play, musical, concert, or IKEA cabinet assembly receives a standing ovation.

Standing ovations used to, well… stand for something. You reserved them for HAMILTON, or Adele, or the Puppetry of the Penis. Today an Equity Waiver production of SPIDERMAN: THE MUSICAL starring local TV news anchors gets a standing O. Even though it closes after one performance and three people are injured.

I can’t tell you how many times over the last few years I’ll go to a meh theater event, watch the audience leap to its feet, and go “What the fuck? She forgot half her lines. He sang off key. She never took her clothes off.”

When did standing ovations become the norm? The idea is to really single out excellence. 85-year-old Barbara Cook still hitting spectacular notes. A helicopter landing on stage. LES MIZ with a cast of three.
This seems to be the pattern. Show ends. Actors take their curtain call. Half the audience leaps to its feet. Another quarter sees this, wasn’t going to but decide what the hell? They rise. The rest now figure, shit, we don’t want to look like assholes, so they join the adulation. I think for a standing ovation to mean anything today, at least 80% must jump up at once. Anything less doesn’t count.

I feel bad now for actors when they only receive loud thunderous applause. That must be devastating to them.

Is this just an outgrowth of the Millennial generation where everyone got trophies for everything?

Partially, I blame myself. I’ve spent a good portion of my career toiling in multi-camera television. Studio audiences are herded into sound stages, and warm-up men TELL them to give standing ovations. It always kills me when the cast of a pilot is introduced and gets a standing O. The audience has no idea who any of these people are. They haven’t even seen them perform yet and already they’re out of their seats. Perhaps TV sitcom tapings over many years has conditioned audiences to automatically stand at the sight of anyone bowing. Although, I may be too hard on myself. This happens in game show tapings too. Crowds are expected to go wild for Chuck Woolery.

We’re getting dangerously close to a time when movies get standing ovations.

I think it’s time to pull back. Steve Harvey interviewing toddlers isn’t enough. Nor is Carson Daly doing anything. Let’s celebrate true excellence, let’s reserve our highest recognition for those performers who really deserve it. Let’s bring back “special.”

As a writer I never expect a standing ovation. Bouquets of flowers are enough.

50 comments:

Stan said...

I'm an actor and you've hit on one of my biggest pet peeves. I absolutely don't mind possibly looking like an asshole when everyone in the theatre has leapt to their feet for a play that was nothing special while I'm still sitting there doing what used to be the normal thing to do for almost all plays: sit and applaud. And it's the same thing when I'm on stage and everyone in the cast gets a standing ovation for every single performance when I know it wasn't deserved. The standing ovation has been cheapened so it doesn't mean anything anymore. That robs the actors of a play that truly deserves a standing ovation of the true impact that a standing O should have on them. And that's a shame.

Orwell said...

At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon like you, Ken, I have to agree. The last two plays I went to see both got standing O's at the end. I enjoyed both of them, don't get me wrong. But both fell short of what I would consider Excellent, and deserving of a standing ovation. I was more than happy to clap enthusiastically, showing my appreciation to the actors, musicians, crew and producers.

But, both times I caved, and begrudgingly stood up after I saw that 80 percent of the audience was standing. I didn't want to look like I was having a sit-in for a cause, so I stood like everyone else. I suppose it's just become the new normal, so who am I to sit in the way. And yes, it is no doubt a byproduct of the "trophy for everyone" culture.

Oh well, there are more important things to worry about.

Earl Boebert said...

I think it started with TED talks and spread from there.

VP81955 said...

When Roger Maris hit his 60th homer in 1961, he received a standing ovation at Yankee Stadium, and the announcers noted how unusual that was. Yep, times have changed.

Matthew said...

The biggest problem I have with a standing O is that I get light-headed and my knees want to give out. Too dangerous, especially if the floor is hard.

Glenn said...

I've done lots of plays, Ken, and I agree, the standing ovation is a bit overused. I've done shows where the director fills up the chorus with children (partly to pad the audience with the kids' families), and the kids coming out for their bow get a big "awwwwww' and everyone stands for them, so you have a built-in standing O. I don't usually stand unless I think the show was incredible. I have been in the audience for God-awful shows (recently when a college production absolutely destroyed a Neil Simon play) and I think I was one of three people who did not stand at the end. I got dirty looks, but when you butcher Neil Simon, my butt stays in the seat.

WilliamJansen said...

I have a blood circulation-problem, so unless I actively hated the performance, I will stand up as soon as possible. Plus giving standing ovations are a lot more fun than remaining seated.

Ethan said...

FWIW, my dead old Dad often tells the story of how the audience gave "ET" a standing ovation at the movie theatre, in Illinois. It wasn't like Spielberg was there to see/hear it. So there is a precedent.

Covarr said...

Maybe it's because we're a small community theater, but the group I act with only gets standing ovations sometimes. We did every night for OUR TOWN, but our more recent play, a comedy written by a friend of the group, got it once, and that was started by its own writer happy to see his characters come to life.

Not that it makes much difference to me. I find far more joy in meeting the audience in the lobby after the show, shaking hands and getting to be myself to them out of character, to be far more rewarding than any applause.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Movies do get standing ovations. At least it happened for every single Star Wars movie's opening crawl which I attended.

Ficta said...

Curious that you're seeing this now. It seems to me this peaked about 5 years ago here in the DC area. For awhile there, every damn thing got a standing ovation, but it seems like it's turned around a bit and audiences are reserving their ovations noticeably more than they were a few years ago. That's my impression anyway; I could be imagining it.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I have frequently been the curmudgeon who stays seated during standing ovations. Or would have been if my father had not implanted in me very young the notion that the instant the play ends you beat a fast path to the exit before you can get trapped in the crowd. I love aisle seats...

wg

Neil D said...

I was at a Paul Simon concert in a theater a couple of weeks ago. At the last number of the main set - something up-tempo - the band motioned the audience to their feet to clap and dance (well, sway) along. When the song ended, and they all took their bows and walked off-stage, the audience was automatically giving a standing-ovation just by already being on their feet already and applauding. I mean, they would have gotten it anyway (and deserved it, it was a great show) - but it did seem like a bit of a cheap trick nonetheless.

More annoyingly, the whole damned audience then continued to stay on their feet through two encores and at least a half-dozen more songs - even the slow ones where there was really no need to be standing. I sat down for a couple of songs, hoping it would start a trend, but eventually I had to stand back up if I wanted to see anything other than the butts in front of me.

Carol said...

Off topic, but a friend just sent this link to me, and I'd love to hear your take on it.

http://elumish.tumblr.com/post/144665466215/actualgothicheroine-althoughsolemn

Basically, the gist is television has changed, and it's a good medium now for telling 'important' stories, but unfortunately many show runners put the 'cool story' above the characters, forgetting that ultimately we the viewers come for the CHARACTERS, not the super cool story arc.

This was my favourite bit: 'it has to do with not putting, “Ooh, that’s a cool idea!” ahead of narrative and character.'

Kosmo13 said...

Standing ovations have become every bit as meaningless as everyone is saying, but this is not a new phenomenon. I've been noticing it for decades. Merv Griffin commented on it once his talk show. How long ago would that have been?

David P said...

Les Mis with a cast of three? I've seen a performer named Rick Miller do it solo, performing as the cast of the Simpsons.

He also does more serious fare, like The Scottish Play. You know, MacHomer.

Bob B. said...

I don't see the problem. I often hear people that an act or athlete received "polite applause". How can you tell the difference? When you add the visual of a standing ovation, you can tell. IF you don't want to stand, don't. And if the play is as bad as you're saying, why did you stay for the end anyway?

Roseann said...

My theory is if you paid between 75 and 800 dollars for a ticket it damn well better be worthy of a Standing O. Otherwise I wasted my money. And I would never do that - I only pick hits....

Bruce said...

I only stand up to leave.

Amy said...

This has bugged me for years. Thank you! I try so hard not to cave into
standing when I can't stand the show (no pun intended). And I love leaping
to my feet at curtain when a show moves me to do so.

Al said...

I think it may be due to how rare it is for folks to actually see a live performance these days. I go to a lot of live theatre and therefore I know that some is good, some is great and most are just okay or worse. If you only go to one live performance a year or even in your lifetime, it might be that the experience is so unique that for that person it's worthy of a standing ovation.

Of course there's also the fact that (and this is especially true in small, community based theatres) these are real actual people and it's a nice thing to do. When I perform in a local play or musical, you don't always get a standing ovation (or even applause sometimes) so when you do get it it's an amazing thing. And in community theatre, you're also much more likely to run into people at the mall buying socks that were also playing Curly in Oklahoma just the night before.

As a side note, I've been in movie's that got standing ovations, but it's mostly deep in the nerd world at a Star Wars movie or something.

Unknown said...

Speaking of standing, I was at a James Taylor concert last week and he played America the beautiful. Everyone stood like it was the national anthem. What's up with that? You see this at baseball games too.
Do we have to stand at a Weird Al concert if he mentions America?

Roger Owen Green said...

Truth is that I'll stand when half the audience has stood because I CAN'T otherwise SEE THE CAST TAKE THEIR BOWS.

peterj said...

In the local theatre scene we used to call it a "standard ovation". It's much less common these days, but still happens.

Anonymous said...

I thought this was just a Seattle thing--we'll Standing O anything! But I guess the scourge is spreading!

BA said...

David P: Tell me more of this play, please. I'm a scholar of Homeric Shakespeare.

Gary said...

Going slightly off topic here, but this post reminds me of my own pet peeve: talk show audiences SCREAMING their lungs out for every guest on the show. This goes way beyond the standing ovation, they now go absolutely crazy (or they've been instructed to) for every lame guest introduced by Ellen, Jimmy, Conan, etc.

Screaming used to be reserved for unbelievably great acts, like the Beatles, period. Now any Kardashian or Gosselin can get screams, simply by existing. Just once I'd like to stop the audience and ask them exactly WHY they're screaming for this no-talent person. I'm sure nobody would have an answer.

CRL said...

I blame Happy Days.

Do we really have to stop the show every time Potsie enters?

emily said...

I guess a Standing "O" in the boudoir is another topic entirely.

Rock Golf said...

I just read that there's a lost mini-episode of Cheers used to sell Savings Bonds.

Deets here: Any memories or comments? How (if at all) did the cast get paid for things like this and the Super Bowl promo?

Rock Golf said...

oops! Forgot the link: http://spinoff.comicbookresources.com/2016/07/07/tv-legends-revealed-is-there-a-special-lost-episode-of-cheers/

Donald Benson said...

I remember the "WHOOOOOOO" thing, mainly on "Married With Children" for any remotely sexual reference.

H Johnson said...

Thanks Ken. I'm with most of the others. Everybody gets standing ovations and it bugs the crud out of me. But I guess it's what we get now-a-days. We expect so little from our politicians, teachers, police, etc.. Why should entertainers be any different. I guess we're so happy that someone didn't spray us all down with a machine gun that we're ecstatic just to have survived the performance.

And those idiots losing their mind when Larry Wilmore or Jimmy Fallon walk out must be the most grateful of all. We're doomed.

Aloha

PS: You can't see me but I'm giving today's post a enthusiastic clapping. But I have remained seated. Please try to go on.

Jeff Maxwell said...

I'm filled with anxiety whenever a play ends. Do I stand up for what I may not think deserves a standing ovation, or do I stand up for myself and stay seated? Admittedly, I don't have the cajones like some who don't care what people think, so, ashamedly, I usually follow the crowd like a lemming.

I attended opening night of a play last night. In my opinion, as entertaining as it was, it was too long and will need some time to season. Because the audience consisted of mostly friends of the writer and cast, I expected them to leap to their feet at curtain. To their credit, they rewarded the cast with appropriate and enthusiastic applause, but remained seated.

I breathed a sigh of relief and headed for the restroom.

Jennifer said...

I don't really have a problem with standing O's at plays, but I hate at concerts where the performers are all, "Good night!", randomly walk off and then hide out for 5-10 minutes to make the audience scream for them to return.

MikeK.Pa. said...

Flowers? What about a basket of booze or at least a case of beer?
I get annoyed watching rock bands that exit the stage, knowing they will return once the audience begs them with applause for an encore. What band first started this idiocy?

BobinVT said...

This is not a recent trend. It's really annoying to attend a play that's nothing special and sit there as more and more of the audience rises from their chairs. Finally, as the number of non-risers becomes a small minority, you begin to feel like you're a meany for not joining in. This is particularly true of community theater, where friends and family leap up as the first cast members start to walk on stage, no matter the quality of the show. Then the herd effect kicks in until all but curmudgeons are standing.

Buttermilk Sky said...

If you have paid several hundred dollars to see, oh, HAMILTON, either you have had the experience of a lifetime or you're an idiot. Since you couldn't possibly be an idiot, you must give this performance a standing o. Nobody wants to be the little kid who sees that (to quote a different musical) "The emperor is altogether, he's altogether, but altogether..." naked.

Scuffed Shoes said...

Someone suggested some years ago, when this trend of standing Os for everything began to be common, that it was the result of Broadway prices being so high. A standing ovation is a way for the audience to confirm to itself that it was money well spent. If you've spent $500 for a pair of tickets the show damn well better be worth a standing ovation.
From Broadway it seems to have moved to other venues.

Jahn Ghalt said...

As a "classically-trained musician" we were taught to hold applause until the end of a multi-movement piece, so as a teenager (ca. 1976) I got to feel educated when folks clapped between movements.

A local artist (of some wide reknown) once performed the Beethoven Violin Concerto. When the clapping went on between Movements 1 and 2, he waited then said something like:

"Thank You. We will now play the second movement" - a minority got it and laughed. It worked - silence between movements 2 and 3.

More on topic, while he was deserving of a Standing O that night, most times classical performers in Anchorage were/are not so deserving - but since the early eighties it has been fairly common.

I will sometimes clap while seated at the end of a fine film - occasionally someone will beat me to it, more often a few will join me.

But I'm an odd duck. A few years back they played Young Frankenstein on Halloween Night - I was so up for it that at first I laughed before the punch lines (I got that under control).

Johnny Walker said...

Crazy. I hope it doesn't travel to London.

Ken, I have a possible Friday Question for the pile: Which episodes of M*A*S*H from the Larry Gelbert era are your favourite?

David P said...

BA: Look at http://www.machomer.com and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IF7D94exAWQ&index=1&list=PL94FAC9E8A4BE928E for more information

YEKIMI said...

I saw the headline "The Big O" and thought to myself "He's writing about orgasms now?"

Storm said...

@Jennifer: Girl, you beat me to it. I realized many years ago that EVERYONE does The Fake Encore bit, and unless it's a venue where I'm already standing, I take the opportunity to rest from the high heels for a bit. "Yeah, right, 'Goodnight San Diego' my big ass. They haven't done yet, they're not going anywhere until they do, and dammit, neither am I!"

Cheers, thanks a lot,

Storm

Doug G. said...

I live in a city where audiences are known to give up a standing ovation, even for the kind of amateur theater in which I occasionally perform. When I recently performed a fun and flashy lead role, I didn't get a single standing ovation. I'm really re-thinking how talented I actually am. But at least I didn't have to suffer through any "standard ovations" (thanks for the term, peterj).

Fred said...

I attended the opening night performance of the Chicago resident company of A Chorus Line in 1979(?) and the cast was so extraordinary that we, the audience, could not stay in our seats. I was on my feet cheering before I even knew it. It was the only genuine, spontaneous standing ovation I have ever experienced. I suspect that even people who think they have given genuine standing ovations haven't, based on my experience. I also suspect that the performers recognize the difference between a polite standing ovation and the real thing because the experience is unlike anything. And, no disrespect meant to Neil D. and his Paul Simon concert experience, but I suspect that Paul Simon hasn't put in the type of energy that would trigger a genuine spontaneous standing ovation since before breaking up with Garfunkle.

Jabroniville said...

I actually wondered about this, because at 34 years old, literally every musical I've ever been to has drawn a standing O... except for one. And it so struck me that everyone remained seated that I was dumbfounded and had to check online to make sure this wasn't a deliberate snub. Oddly enough, it was a touring show for Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and a show a few days later DID draw a Standing O.

But yeah, I looked it up, and sure enough this was a pet peeve of many critics & performers, as it had turned into a rote response to anything.

Igor said...

Rodney Dangerfield had a bit about audience applause. How performers love it. But then he'd say, "But all I want is for you to give me one of these." And he'd make the OK sign.

cadavra said...

Even worse: I went to a small show not long ago with a friend in the cast. I didn't stand, because I only do that when it's warranted and/or I have no choice because I can't see anything (per Roger above). After the show, I waited to congratulate my friend, and he was furious with me because he saw me not standing and interpreted that to mean I hated the show and his performance. You can't win.

Andy Rose said...

Maybe the prevalence of "name" TV and movie actors in certain stage roles has something to do with it? A few years ago I saw a Broadway preview of a show that starred Ben Stiller and Edie Falco. It got a standing ovation at the end, but I gathered that many in the audience just wanted to applaud a real live star standing in front of them. Afterward, I heard many of the same people who were standing say that Falco was the only good thing about the performance.