Stephen Sondheim on SOs: “Every show now gets a standing ovation, but I think if you’re really moved, you don’t stand. They want to remind themselves that it’s an occasion–they’re applauding themselves.”
Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Are people standing to applaud themselves for spending money on a Broadway show, or are they actually applauding a performance that they’ve just seen? It’s not the greatest source in the world, but Wikipedia describes a standing ovation as, “This is done on special occasions by an audience to show their approval and is done after extraordinary performances of particularly high acclaim.” But in the day and age which we currently live, standing ovations seem to not be reserved for extraordinary performances, rather given as a rite of passage to any show upon it’s curtain call.
I’ve always had a bit of trouble with this idea. People jumping up to give applause the moment the curtain falls. Is the performance really blew you away, then by all means, stand up and cheer (musical reference, anyone?)! But if you’re just standing for the sake of standing, it seems like not only a waste, but exactly what Mister Sondheim said in the quote above–applauding yourself. While I’m extremely selective with my standing ovations, and not only give them selectively by performance, but also selectively by performer (meaning I will stand up for one performer and sit down for another), I decided to pole my Twitter followers to see how they trended on the same topic.
I started with a simple question, do you always give standing ovations, and what is the longest one you’ve experienced? The results at first shocked me, almost everyone who responded said that they either always or up to 95% of the time, DO give standing ovations. Quite different from my personal opinion on the matter. Longest standing ovations, however, were more along the lines of what I had imagined–final performances by a favorite actor/tress, final performance for a show in general, or a particularly breath taking or awe inspiring sing song performance which elicited a mid-show stand-up.
Very few people responded that they rarely stand, and others said they were even forced into giving standing ovations by whoever was attending the show with them. I am going to take this moment to stand up (hardy har) and say that is wrong. You should never be forced to stand for a performance, because standing up as you applaud a performance should be organic and come from the heart. Furthermore, my followers/readers, I urge you to please be more selective. When you feel like something has gone above and beyond–then stand! If the show ends and you don’t feel it was one of the best shows you’ve ever seen, why make the people on stage believe that it was by giving them this honor? Because it is an honor.
The problem goes beyond the audience. If you stand for everything and it becomes an every-performance event, rather than a once in a life time experience, you’re robbing exceptional performers of their moment. Even worse than that, you give mediocre actors and actresses the right to continue giving mid-range performances. How many times have you gone to a show and felt that someone could do better? Or that they looked bored on stage? This is an epidemic these days and it needs to be stopped. Help push people in the right direction by giving over and above applause/admiration only to those who whole heartedly deserve it.
I’ll get off my soapbox now.