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WPCNR STAGE DOOR. By Addison Dewitt. Updated from October 16, 2014, November 11, 2017:

The state of the theatre today is better than it has ever been.

Daring plays are being created by insightful new playwrights with daring directing, staging with awe. The aging theatre audience continues to support the avantgarde. The acting is ever more intense. The scripts dangerously human. Even the musicals, though outrageously new in some respects have become tourist-oriented, star vehicles and special effects driven, but this was the greatest year Broadway has ever had. (Updating you to 2017, the 2016-17 season even topped that!

However the state of the  theatre audience is worse than it has ever been.

I have to tap my Between-The-Acts cigarillo in my cigarette holder with disdain for the behavior I have seen in an  assortment of venues this season.

The dress for the theatre when I was guiding Eve to the top in All About Eve, was always impeccable. Tuxedos on opening night, suits, ties for the men and gowns for the women.

But now, at evening performances you rarely see even sport jackets and ties on the men. And the milleniums of today, blue jeans, T-shirts under sport jackets. Ties in fact are just not to be seen.Even persons in the older theatre crowd no longer dress up for the theatre. I lament this overwhelming trend.

Style is dead in the theatre-goer today. They may like informal, and more convenient to dress casual, and that is kind to call it casual. The young women dress much better than their male dates, they are at least neat and well-made up, even if they do wear pants. But please bare midriffs in the audience, this just says, “I’m showing my midriff.” No style to it, young ladies.

Even the cougars(women of the interesting age) in the audience adopt a more casual style, but some do wear dresses, especially the elderly ladies,  and preserve vestiges of formality for the performance. I miss the dignity of audiences of the past.

As a young copywriter once wrote years ago about the theatre, “You’re going to the theatre. Tonight is the night you paint the town red. ”   Nobody dresses “red” for the theatre today.

The theatre goers of today have too many i-phones: the device that they insist on looking at and checking for messages right up until the performance begins and do not shut it off until the houselights go down. Are you that important, really? Are you that insecure that you have to check e-mails and texts on matinee days? Please.

If you have a phone that accepts Severe Weather Alerts, be aware it will go off with a BEEEEEP BEEEP  BEEEP even if you’ve turned it off, as one did at a performance I was at the other day. It used to be, you read Playbill leading up to the performance, not e-mails.  Theatres should make you check your cellphones at the door, like they do at golf tournaments. Now, Heaven knows, anything goes if your phone glows.

You also should not talk during a performance. People do.

You also should not make a public display of how much you love each other when you are in the front row of a theatre-in-the-round performance, as a couple did at the performance I was at recently, rubbing each other’s knees and coming very close to border-necking. This was absurd, and a total insult to the actors who were delivering magnificent work five feet away. In fact, anywhere in the theatre you should not be so absorbed in each other that you make others around you uncomfortable.

It is worth repeating that sentence: you should not be so absorbed in each other that you make others around you uncomfortable anywhere in the theatre.

Then there is the water bottle syndrome. The theatre is not the movies, where snacking is a tradition. Somehow this has now found its way into the theatre. It is becoming like a baseball game. In another performance I recently saw, in the front row a gentleman was drinking out of a water bottle five feet from the stage while the performance was going on. Was he really that thirsty? Please, a little respect for the actors. This goes for candy-unwrapping, gum chewing, whatever.

Now, one tradition Broadway theatres have continued to this day is total disdain for the theatre-going public. Houses do not open sometimes until 7:45. They queue you up and make you wait to get in. You are literally herded into the theatre.  And herded quickly out, except when the theater professionals are taking up a collection. This theatre management shows just a lack of consideration, especially in the big houses. Could we change this tradition of  lines to get in when it is totally avoidable? At $170 a ticket? Absurd.

Now as for seating, why is it that the swells with the most expensive seats always arrive last? This is another dissing of the actors and rudeness to audience. Could you get there on time, Mr. and Mrs. Important? You look like jerks to the rest of the theatre patrons and the actors when you are disturbing the front rows, any rows for that matter after the performance has started. And we know you don’t want to look like that, do you?

But, when you walk in at 2:05 for a 2 o’clock matinee, everyone in the audience knows that you not only paid hundreds of dollars for the worst seats in the house, but you’re a jerk for not allowing enough time! Don’t you get that?

Now another peeve. I am sick and tired of paying $100 a seat, and then the theatre and the actors having the nerve to ask for donations to a charity after the performance! Donate your salary! Donate a portion of those show’s profits. This is sickening.

I am sick of that. If the theatre syndicate owning the venue cared a wit for the charity, they would say the entire day’s house  or portion of a hit show handle, would be donated to AIDS, children, whatever. They could easily do that.

The theatre owners and producers are so greedy. They pretend to care but. They do not folks! Let’s donate your profits, don’t hit up the audience’s collective guilt by asking for cash in a bucket. This is so unclassy.

Just a few quality of theatre observations from one who has seen a lot. The  wonder of drama and entertainment quality is only seen on the stage, and never seen from theatre management.

The audience needs to show some respect for the actors by dressing a little better, a lot better.

Yes yes, (with a wave of a hand and my cigarette holder) I am a traditionalist.

Addison DeWitt

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