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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ruminations on the Standing O'

Several times in the past few months, I've found myself at the curtain call of a play in the midst of a standing ovation. Some of these, for example. Now, as you can see (or read) I didn't particularly care for these plays. So I didn't participate in the standing o'.

This happens to me a lot. And I hate it. On one hand, nothing makes me feel more curmudgeonly then staying staunchly planted in my seat when everyone - to my front, to my back, and to both my sides - around me is on their feet. It makes me feel Scroogish, uncharitable, as though I refuse to see the effort and dedication that has been put into the production.

Really, nothing could be further from the truth. Really. In almost every production I've ever seen, there's something worth acknowledging. There's an incredible amount of passion and hard work and honorable intentions that goes into every production, and I hate to feel like I haven't properly expressed my gratitude and appreciation for the experience.

Take the People in the Picture, for example. I really disliked this play, was even borderline-offended by its treatment of the subject matter (more on that to come). But almost all of the actors were supremely talented, and every single one of them was working hard. In fact, I've never seen actors work so hard on stage. Donna Murphy in particularly extraordinary. Yet when she took her final bow and most of the audience rose to its feet, I stayed firmly planted, all the while feeling terribly conflicted. I hated to seem as though I was willfully refusing to acknowledge Ms. Murphy's dynamic performance. But, I couldn't force myself to my feet.

I hated the show. What can I say? I hated the show. There have been shows, many many shows, which I have hated much less - shows I've even liked well enough - for which I have not stood. Because when I give a standing ovation, I want it to mean something. When I rise to my feet, I want to communicate that I was transformed by the work I just saw.

Not just, "hey, good job." Not just, "I appreciate the time and effort you took to give me the experience of this performance." Those sentiments are important, but that's what applause is for, that's what the curtain call is for. That's not what a standing o' is for. Not if you ask me.

A standing ovation should say, this work was transcendent. It was above and beyond all my expectations entering this theater. I may walk out these doors and never be the same because of this experience. Every artist involved with the production has my sincere thanks and congratulations.

Standing up on stage, or in the back of the house, that's what I'd want a standing ovation to mean to me as an artist. It's partly out of respect for the artists involved and what I communicate to them with my gesture that I so often stay seated.

And it's partly for me. When I am moved that deeply by a play - and I have been - I want a way to express it. I want to keep that right sacred.

Plays For Which I Have Been Moved To Give Standing Ovations:

(there are others, but these are the ones I remember)
-Fiasco Theater's Cymbeline
-Van Hove's The Little Foxes
-[title of show]

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