10 Ways to Stay on Patti LuPone's Good Side by Matthew Murray

    Would YOU want to get Patti LuPone angry at you?  (Photo by Joan Marcus.)No offense intended to any particular religion, but when it comes to the theatre, everyone needs to put aside the time-honored question of "WWJD?" and instead ask themselves "WWPLD?"

    That's "What Would Patti LuPone Do?", just in case there's any question. The two-time Tony winner for Evita and Gypsy, who marshals a considerable fan base and an even more formidable belt, has spent 2009 declaring war on the disturbing progression of atrocious behavior at the theater. She made headlines earlier this year when, at the penultimate performance of the Broadway revival of Gypsy, she halted the show right at the start of the climactic number "Rose's Turn" and called out—and demanded the ejection of—an audience member who was video-recording her. And, just last week, she hit the news again when she chewed out someone who was texting during her Las Vegas concert.

    Let's leave aside the question of whether she should have done this. (Although I'd be interested to know what you think.) It's happened twice, and chances are it will happen again. And if LuPone isn't the one who does it, someone else will. Theater owners and ushers, and especially audience members, have grown increasingly lax when it comes to stopping behavior like this when it starts, so someone has to pick up the slack. Let's examine the common-sense ways you can prevent LuPone—or anyone else—from chewing you out when you go to the theater.

    1. Don't come late. A colleague of mine always says, "If you can get to the airport an hour ahead of time for a flight, why can't you get to a theater 10 minutes before a play starts?" He's right. Coming in only a few minutes after the start time is really rude to the audience members who got there on time and want to see what's going on, but it's just as inconsiderate to the performers—and don't think they can't see. Check the time on your tickets or on the ticketing website to make sure you know when the curtain goes up—then plan to be there 10-15 minutes prior to that. Eat quickly if you have to, or leave work a few minutes early. Plus, from a practical standpoint, getting to a show on time means you see everything—and that you're not wasting your money, or missing out on some vital information or entertainment that could make the difference between a good evening and an unforgettable one.

    2. No talking. Do not talk. Do not talk. Do not talk. It's inconsiderate not just to the person you're talking to, who may prefer his experience not be interrupted, but also to everyone around you, who's either aware of what you're saying or at least that you're saying something. If some emergency requires you to notify your companion that you're leaving, say something quickly and then leave as quickly as possible. There is never a reason to converse with your friend or make snarky comments about what you're seeing, no matter how much you hate it. Suppress the impulse. If you can't, then just get out—you obviously don't really want to be there anyway.

    3. No mobile devices. If you are going to a show, the ideal place for your cell phone is at home, or in your glove compartment if you drove to the theater. If you have it with you, turn it off when you enter the theater. If you simply must use your phone at intermission, to listen to voice mail or check on the kids, leave the theater, make your call, turn your phone off, and then come back in. A ringing or buzzing phone ruins the evening for everyone—even if you turn it off immediately—and if you think no one around you can see the screen of the phone if you text something, you're wrong—just ask Patti LuPone. If you can't be without your iPhone, BlackBerry, or plain-old cell phone for two hours, you shouldn't be going to the theater.

    4. No pictures. Do not take pictures—flash or otherwise, still or video. There are rules, laws, and hefty fines governing things, but it's also disruptive for the other people around you, and potentially distracting for those onstage. (Those lights on cameras and camcorders are easily seen in a dark theater.) Oh, and by the way, chances are that whatever you take is going to turn out terrible anyway, noisy and useless—theaters are lit for shows, not for cameras. Save yourself the future heartbreak and keep yours out of sight.

    5. Stay in your seat. Just because that choice seat on the aisle is empty when the show starts doesn't mean no one will come and sit in it—someone will exactly seven minutes after you move. (Seriously, I've timed this.) Likewise, unless it's a dire emergency, don't get up and leave during the show. It's impossible to inconvenience only one person when you move around for any reason, so wait until intermission to do anything you need to.

    6. Don't eat or drink. I've got news for you: Everyone will hear you open that cellophane-wrapped candy, extract two Tic Tacs from that container, swig from that plastic water bottle, or chew that gum. These things may not sound so bad on the street or at home, but in a theater during a show, they are positively deafening. A few years ago at an Off-Broadway play, I sat behind a woman who spent—this is not an exaggeration—15 minutes opening a Werther's Original, completely unaware that she was drowning out all the dialogue onstage. Every little thing in the theater makes noise, and it is your responsibility as an audience member to not add to it.

    7. If you have to eat or drink, do it quietly. If you're not feeling well, it's best not to go to a show. But if you do go, and you bring with you a cold that may require you pop a cough drop, open the package before the show, unwrap all the lozenges you'll need, and keep them in your lap. If you're seized by a coughing fit, grab a cough drop and open it as quickly as you possibly can—in this case, and this case only, is it really the lesser of two evils. Again, this condition only applies to actual need; because you wanted Skittles at intermission and didn't finish them before Act II started doesn't count.

    8. Leave after the curtain call. The people onstage have been working hard for the last two hours; you can wait an extra two minutes to get out of the theater. Plus, the other people in your row who may not be giving a standing ovation or may not want or be able to move don't deserve to be disrupted by your selfish timetable. Stay respectful of everyone and wait until the show is completely over.

    9. Be polite and respectful in how you respond. This does not mean not to laugh, cry, clap, or cheer. But be reasonable about it. There's no need to laugh extra loud just to show that you get a certain in-joke, because everyone can tell when you do that. Don't greet every song with some full-throated bellow, because then your reaction has no meaning. Respond as you're genuinely moved to respond, keeping in mind that there are other people around you who also want to watch the show and react as they see fit. Don't deny them their experience.

    10. Remember it's not all about you. This is the Golden Rule, from which the previous nine rules spring. If you're in the audience of a show, the point is to watch the show, not to promote yourself or behave in such a way that ruins everyone else's time. If you have even the slightest doubt about anything you're doing or anything you want to do, chances are you shouldn't do it. The less noise you make and the less you impact others, the better. If you care so little about others as to do bothersome things anyway, you'd better be prepared to face the wrath of Patti LuPone—and all real theatre folk who know that good theatre etiquette is as simple as sitting down, shutting up, and paying attention to the stage.

    Monday, June 29, 2009 at 12:01 AM | Item Link

    The last five columns written by Matthew Murray:

    07/14/2009: Reviewing the Tony Situation

    06/29/2009: 10 Ways to Stay on Patti LuPone's Good Side

    05/15/2009: Perspectives on Faith and Death, Both Tragic and Comic

    05/14/2009: Two Troubled Shows and Two Visions of Troubled America, in Our Nation's Capitol

    05/12/2009: Heartbreak Country

    For a listing of all features written by Matthew, click here.