Monday, July 29, 2013

Theatre Etiquette

As many theatergoers, I have suffered the indignity of having snacks rained down upon his head by the reprobates who hang out in the balcony. Stories of disorderly theater patrons can be traced from the 1500s to present day. Mira Felner wrote in a 2006 essay "The World of Theatre: Tradition and Innovation": "In his own time, Shakespeare’s plays were performed before a rowdy audience who booed, hissed, cheered, conversed, ate, drank, and even threw food at the performers, offering one explanation for the rat infestation in theatres of the period. Many believe that the open roof of the Elizabethan playhouse was a means to let the stench of food, drink, and unwashed bodies escape."

In 1833, a German nobleman shared his indignant observations of the English theater with the North American Review. He wrote, "The most striking thing to a foreigner in English theatres is the unheard-of coarseness and brutality of the audiences. . . English freedom here degenerates into the rudest license and it is not uncommon, in the midst of the most affecting parts of a tragedy, or the most charming cadenza of a singer, to hear some coarse expressions shouted from the gallery in a stentor voice. . . It is also no rarity for someone to throw the fragments of his goute, which do not always consist of orange-peels alone, without the smallest ceremony, on the heads of the people in the pit or. . . with singular dexterity into the boxes."

This rowdy behavior was ripe for comic treatment by 1903, at which time the Karno Company lampooned ill-mannered theater patrons in their "Mumming Birds" sketch. The sketch was later recreated on film by a number of comedians.

Let the food droppage begin.

Charlie Chaplin in A Night in the Show (1915)

 Larry Semon in Between the Acts (1919)

Buster Keaton in The Play House (1921)

Larry Semon in The Show (1922)


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