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Monday, January 03, 2011


Merriam-Webster defines applause as:
approval publicly expressed (as by clapping the hands)
While applause is a commonly understood and used expression of approval, I was taught at a very early age that a standing ovation is different; the standing ovation is a special distinction to honor a stand-out performance or speaker and indicates a particularly high level of approval and should be used sparingly.  Right?
The sound that says love,
Applause, applause, applause!

~Applause, Applause, Lee Adams (lyricist)

For as long as I can remember, I have taken that sparingly thought to heart and tried to only gave standing ovations if I was blown away by a particular performance.  Sometimes I admit that I give away the standing ovation a little too freely but sometimes I do the whole following-the-heard thing and feel guilty that the entire theatre is standing and I'm not.

So I started thinking about the performers/performances I have recently given standing ovations  (because I thought it was well deserved).  This isn't a list of everything I've seen, but what I thought was particularly well performed in the last year:
Not so long ago, I made the snarky comment that theatre audiences in LA will give anyone a standing ovation as I left a mediocre performance.  I was unsure if audiences were unaware of the concept of what a standing ovation means or if they believe that standing during curtain calls are customary.  I am not talking about the people standing (and then LEAVING) during curtain calls or even during encores during a concert - that is worthy of an entire forthcoming post.  However, not all performances are standing ovation worthy and yet, I see that (particularly with LA crowds) EVERY show, EVERY performance gets one (even those that are really, not so good).  The only time I noticed a lack of a standing ovation was not because the show was bad, but because the average age of the audience (at this professional equity production) was upwards of about 80-years-old, and most had walkers or wheelchairs, so I assume that maybe they couldn't stand up?  Either that or they are old enough to know that not every single performance needs a standing ovation.  I don't want to be a negative nellie here, but I think giving every performance a standing ovation regardless of a performance is a little misleading and unfair.  Its like the audience who cried wolf!

Then...I googled the history of the standing ovation and found this somewhat equally snarky article written by Michael Billington of the UK's The Guardian.  The thing is, I kind of agree with him (not the insulting American theatre-goers as déclassé parts) but here:
The standing ovation is now a meaningless nightly ritual...If you do it for virtually everything, it soon becomes valueless...But a standing-ovation should be a rare and choice event. Currently, however, it is turning into a hollow gesture in which audiences seek to transform perfectly decent plays and musicals into earth-shattering occasions.
This has been my point and I think that Billington says it better above than I do, but for those of you who attend any performing arts or speaking attention and let me know what you think...theaterfan [at] aol [dot] com.


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