As readers of this column and, for that matter, almost any newspaper that fits into the broadsheet category, will know, audience behaviour in theatres and other entertainment venues is causing consternation. We haven’t quite reached the lows of ancient times when crowds were literally bayed for blood and demanded executions, but it may only be a matter of time.
Already, there have been reports of fights in theatres, verbal and even physical assaults on staff and a general outpouring of libertarian attitudes whereby advocates do what they like and couldn’t care less about how it impacts on others. The misuse of mobile phones is now standard, while eating, drinking and reportedly even attempted procreation is taking place while drama is taking something of a back seat on stage.
Sometimes, the purpose of culture almost disappears without trace. As visitors to any major art gallery will know, more of their fellows seem keen to take photos of themselves and each other than to take time to enjoy the art works. The same is now happening in theatres, especially for musicals featuring TV and screen stars at which their fans want selfies, videos and other takeaways to justify the ludicrous ticket prices.
Groupies also seem keen to share their enjoyment in real time, occasionally even encouraged by marketing teams who are apparently happy for tweets (or are they like former spouses now exes?) to be shared as the actors strut their stuff on stage.
We are only a few steps away from anarchy, and those who know their theatre history will be well aware that a couple of hundred years ago on both sides of the Atlantic, performances could end in riots with limbs broken and, in extreme circumstances, patrons killed.
The latest controversy has centred on audience members “singing” along to their favourite songs, particularly during jukebox musicals. Many of us will struggle to understand the appeal of allowing your own voice to drown those of the people whom you have paid exorbitant amounts to see and hear, but alcohol could be a big motivating factor in this latest fad.
For most discerning theatregoers, there is an obvious solution. Avoid the kind of jukebox musical at which this is likely to hinder their enjoyment or, possibly, pick performances where you are more likely to be safe from offensive behaviour such as midweek matinées.
However, it is pleasing to report that producers are beginning to come up with their own novel solutions. A press release this week from the Broadway production of Six the Musical is attempting to kill two birds with one stone, especially for patient, aspiring karaoke stars.
On Wednesday 6 March 2024, there will be a special sing-along performance of the rock concert masquerading as a theatre show at which patrons are encouraged to open their lungs in competition with half a dozen performers on stage with the full approval of all involved.