• Oct : 9 : 2013 - The Lyceum Theater is the oldest on Broadway (opened in 1903).
  • Sep : 20 : 2013 - The Tony Award-winning play with the shortest title was Da (1978).
  • Sep : 15 : 2013 - In 1912 New York City theaters became desegregated.
  • Sep : 10 : 2013 - Most New York City Broadway theaters omit the row “I” in their seating to avoid confusion with the number one.
  • Sep : 6 : 2013 - The Actors’ Equity contract was signed on September 6, 1991 after an actors strike right before curtain call lasted almost a month.

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.

Categories: Features

23 Responses so far.

  1. wackeal says:

    I’ve been to several performances to which I didn’t give a standing ovation, so it definitely depends on the performances. But if an actor or show is truly amazing, I will get up. I was went to see Catch Me if you Can and Norbert Leo Butz got a standing o in middle of the show (yes, he was THAT amazing). But I don’t think I would stand for one performer and then sit down for another. I understand that they may not deserve it, but to me it seems rude. I don’t always get up, but when I do, I’m generally up til I leave

  2. RoxieHart says:

    I typically remain seated for curtain calls unless I do feel that the performances warrant a standing ovation. Unfortunately, so many people stand during curtain calls that in order to see the bows, I have to stand, too! So I remain seated until I am moved to give a standing ovation or until I can no longer see the stage. It’s a very imperfect system, and I agree that audiences should be more selective in terms of who they stand up for!

  3. October says:

    I usually stand for the first actor that really blew me away and remain standing for the rest of the curtain call. I agree, it is an honor and should be treated as such.

  4. bkwrm0502 says:

    Even when I don’t feel that the show deserves a standing ovation, I’m often forced to stand up because everyone else is and I can no longer see the actors. I sometimes wonder if this is the real reason standing ovations are so common. You have a few people who stand up for anything, and everyone else is forced to follow.

  5. bwaybaby618 says:

    I am someone who gives standing ovations selectively, so yes, I do stand for one performer and sit back down for another if I feel that is appropriate based on the performances. I’ve found that people give me funny looks when I do that, but I try to hold my ground to make a point that a standing ovation shouldn’t be a standard curtain call routine and should be based on merit. Unfortunately, at that point in the curtain call, many people around me and in front of me are standing, so my sight lines are impaired, and I have to stand up to see anyone on stage, even if I don’t feel like I should. It gets to be a catch-22!

    • BwaySpotted says:

      I agree, it’s very difficult to take those stares, but we should hold our ground and make standing ovations worth something again! Brava for doing so with me :)

  6. elfn says:

    This is such a tricky thing, IMO. I tend to give standing ovations more often than not, but it’s always truly genuine on my part and never because I feel forced into it. For me, it’s a recognition of the incredible effort and talent I’ve just witnessed (if that’s the case) and not always because the show was my favorite. Sometimes it’s the joyousness of the ending scene that prompts a SO, even if the rest of the show was uneven. Like others, I’ve tried to be selective, but it just ends up being awkward when everyone else around is standing, or if it means sitting down and standing up again, which I think is probably a bit of overkill. I remember well the shows I haven’t stood for (despite a majority of the audience doing so) and each has been for different reasons. Some shows just cry out to celebrate their finale with the audience standing and the cast reprising a number, and it adds to the fun of the show…I don’t get too concerned about it…especially when it comes to the swings and ensembles in general, I like to give them extra recognition as I think they work so hard without a great deal of overt reward :) .

  7. Joseph Giglio says:

    My guess is that those who do stand to applaud themselves will not post replies to this article. Mainly because they have no idea they are even giving a standing ovation.

    However I myself reserve a standing ovation for a truly moving experience. They are few and far between.

    Perhaps it is just my advanced age that brings me to this observation. Having attended live theater for over 40 years (My first being a high school production of My Fair Lady in 1964 which I still remember to this day), it is was not my normal experience to have a standing ovation at the end of every theater performance.

    My biggest fear is that those going to theater today have come to think that giving a standing ovation at the end of a performance is just part of the the overall experience and has nothing to do with the performance just experienced.

    I agree with Mr Sondheim on many levels and will be that person not standing at the end of every performance applauding a just average or even good theatrical experience

  8. djw says:

    I’m a Brit who lived in the US for a couple of years outside NYC. I completely agree that on Broadway it is ‘the norm’ to give a standing ovation and I usually join in. There have a been a few shows that I purposefully stayed seated but as long as the performers did a good job and the show is generally good I’ll stand as a sign of respect.

    Since moving back to the UK I’ve been to a couple of West End shows and found that it is *not* the norm here to stand. Even though I loved Matilda (if it doesn’t win best new musical at the Tonys when it transfers I’ll be shocked) the audience didn’t give a standing ovation. Strange.

    Oh, and I am a regular ballet-goer and have *never* seen a standing ovation – whether in NYC at ABT or NYCB, or here in the UK at the Royal Ballet or ENB. The only time I’ve heard of standing ovations at the ballet are for farewell performances (i.e. the dancer is retiring) or outstanding (and I mean that in the true sense of the word) debuts in roles.

  9. Lilly I says:

    I HATE how standard standing ovations have become. I refuse to give a standing O unless a show truly blows me away. Most recently I stood at the end of Anything Goes, How To Succeed (with Darren Criss), Standing on Ceremony, all amazing shows. When I saw Spiderman every single person around me stood at the curtain call and I was appalled. The show was terrible, barely worthy of applause, let alone a standing ovation. When everyone stands it forces those who don’t want to ovate to stand just to see the curtain call. On principle I refuse to stand and instead I deal with missing the bows if I don’t think the show is completely extraordinary.

  10. Jurgen says:

    A few weeks ago at a show the crowd gave a standing ovation for more than 15minutes!!!!, I have however been to many shows where no one gave one, or only a few.The thing to remember is that these days theatre is quite exclusive and poor productions don’t really get on stage that much.This might be because of the fact that theatre isnt as famous as say in the 1800′s and every second person won’t be able to write something and produce it!! only the best

  11. Nick Mayor says:

    I stay put. And many times I have been the only person I see in my seat. Why would I stand up if I didn’t feel someone deserved it? I have been going to Broadway shows for almost fifty years and I feel I would be insulting the memories of the great performances I have seen who are worthy of such adulation.

  12. Renee says:

    Yesterday was the first time in AGES I didn’t *have to* give a standing ovation. (read: no one stood up in front of me to block my view. LOL) I thought the production was terrific and the actors were very entertaining. I clapped and whooped my heart out, but didn’t feel compelled to stand.

    I really dislike the feeling of being “forced” to stand, but I usually do, because I can’t see in front of me! Our Paper Mill tickets are 2nd row orchestra, so I’d rather have eye contact and clap like crazy & smile – but if I adored the performance, I will stand. Just let me make it MEAN something!

  13. Joe says:

    I’ve been to plenty of shows that haven’t had one, and then tonight I saw “Once” and the standing ovation lasted for a few minutes. I think there are a lot of people that agree with you – hence the several minute standing ovation for a phenomenal musical.

  14. Jacob says:

    I agree with only giving standing ovations if the show or performer truly deserves one. My question is, it it acceptable to give a standing ovation if you are the only one. I went to Chicago 2 weeks ago, and while I Loved it, I didn’t feel the need to stand. However, there was only one person in the orchestra who stood at the curtain call. To me it just means that the performance to him really truly deserved a SO, but how would that be viewed by the cast or others in the audience, is it OK to be the only one standing?

  15. Chi-Chi says:

    I actually never thought of a standing ovation as a real honour. Usually when I stand up at the end I select by favourite performers by how loud I scream :) But I have also encountered average shows where I still stood up, just because everyone else was doing it. I’m seriously going to think about standing for an ovation now. Thanks!

  16. [...] much they pay. (This kind of sounds like the Standing Ovation issue, right? Read all about there HERE.) I’ve also known people who get pissed if they pay a lot and the view isn’t perfect. [...]

  17. Alyssa says:

    @BroadwaySpotted could you update the link for the post above? I really want to read the article. Thanks!

  18. Amanda Gwin says:

    I completely agree, I don’t stand unless I feel the performance or actor deserved the standing o. I have to admit, I have been forced to stand due to wanting to see, and everyone around me is standing. Which I don’t appreciate, cause you always know they are the ones who think standing o is customary and not an honor.

    You know another thing that drives me crazy, are people who clap when someone “Famous or top billing” comes on stage for the first time. When that actor comes on stage they are not that person, they are playing a character, why must we clap for them? It is sooo annoying and I cant hear what they are saying. I saw Picnic the other day. The audience clapped every single time a person came on stage. I wanted to scream!! I missed the opportunity to see The Best Man, but I bet with that stacked cast, I bet the audience couldnt stop clapping for the first 30mins. I just think it is rude to the actor, even though I know it is a complement, it is rude to their fellow actors on stage, and it is rude the the audience members. Curtain Call is for the clapping for the actors not when they enter the stage for the first time.

    ok that is my soap box!!

  19. Jack says:

    I can’t stand the business of standing ovations in American theater. There’s a theater in my town, and every single performance gets a standing ovation. What’s the point? How do you show when you’ve seen something really, really exceptional? Stand on your seat? Wave your arms around and take your clothes off?

    Standing ovations need to be rare. Like, never happening except once in every two hundred performances.

  20. […] is the standing ovation. Lots has been written already about the evils of standing o’s (here’s one). Don’t get me wrong, as a performer, I do like getting them (who doesn’t?). But as an audience […]

  21. Blue~ says:

    Yesterday in Verona a crowd of 15000 people stood and applauded 10 dancers. The noise was deafening,it went on FOREVER!!! they didn’t do it because they were forced to, they did it because they had been transported somewhere else for two and half hours by ten people working their socks off to try and give 15000 others a couple of hours of pleasure. What a mean spirited lot we are if we cant stand for two minutes to say thank you for their effort – even if (unlike at Verona) individuals who judge it unworthy, often don’t know a good performance from a bad one. Applause is not only ‘congratulations you did a good job’ it is also ‘thank you for doing it’ Some it appears are so mean spirited as to not say ‘thank you’ to those putting themselves on the line to be judged often by people who are not qualified to judge them anyway. If you are happy to applaud, whoop and holler sitting down – what on earth is the beef about doing it standing up!!

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