Pass the Extra Crispy

Published: June 8, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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And now for another “priceless” Broadway story:

“Mim Pollock was at a performance of South Pacific last month,” the Wall Street Journal article (June 7) begins, “when an audience member took off a shoe and propped her foot up on a rail in front of her.

“The woman, complaining of an injured knee, said she couldn’t sit comfortably any other way, recalls Ms. Pollock, chief usher at New York’s Vivian Beaumont Theater.  Other patrons were not amused. The offenders’ toes ‘were practically in their nose,’ says Ms. Pollock. ‘And her feet smelled.’”

I’ve been to Broadway shows numerous times over the last several years and I continue to be surprised at the increasing lack of plain, ordinary manners that some individuals demonstrate not only to other audience members but towards the hardworking cast and crew who, in most cases, are forced to tolerate the rude behavior.

“…Patti LuPone lit up gossip blogs when she broke character in Gypsy to scream at an audience member taking pictures… ‘I had just had 10 months of pointing out to ushers texting, pointing out to ushers videoing, pointing out to ushers somebody on a phone,’ she says. ‘I just freaked.’

“During a Saturday matinee of the Holocaust drama Irena’s Vow, a man walked in late and called up to actress Tovah Feldshuh to halt her monologue until he got settled. ‘He shouted, ‘Can you please wait a second?’ and then continued on toward his seat,’ recalls Nick Ahlers, a science teacher from Newark, N.J., who was in the audience. He says the actress complied.

“Ms. Feldshuh says… she doesn’t recall the incident, which she says may be evidence of the Zen attitude she’s cultivated onstage. ‘I have no negative energy about it to even remember,’ she says.”

With respect and admiration to Ms. Feldshuh for her self-restraint, the behavior of late has gotten so outrageous that maybe the best way to deal with it is to have the actors embarrass the offender by stopping the play and pointing them out.

“Last month, ushers and security guards at Hair began patrolling the balcony and aisles during the musical’s famous nude scene because so many people were snapping pictures – despite explicit warnings not to do so.

“One night, actor Will Swenson, who plays a hippie named Berger, took a device from a person in the front row and threw it across the stage. ‘I just couldn’t believe the gall of this woman who was videotaping me in my face,’ he says. A crew member deleted the video and returned the camera phone to its owner at intermission, he says.”

“What is with people who think they’re in their own living rooms?” Steve Loucks said who was sitting near one offender.

But the capper has to go to this priceless story from David Hyde Pierce.

“During Curtains, for which he won the Tony for best actor in a musical in 2007, Pierce witnessed a family passing a bucket of chicken down the front row.

“‘You want to take the bucket and stick it on their head,’ he says.”

The good news:  “…audiences aren’t shy about playing police. Ben Admonius, a 26-year-old New Yorker, says that when a cell phone went off near him at The Norman Conquests, the crowd’s reaction was louder than the ring. ‘It was like lions jumping on a rabbit,’ he says.”

Some people need reminders.  Others just need to go.

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