Audiences behaving badly: Bradenton-area audiences may have never seen really rude theater behavior

August 11, 2013 

The other day, I attended a meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Bradenton, and one of the speakers started lightheartedly listing the rudest things you could do in a theater.

He listed things like letting your cell phone ring and unwrapping candies. Annoying, yes, but the rudest things you can do? Not even close.

I've never once seen truly rude theater behavior in the Bradenton-Sarasota area. The worst I've ever experienced was the candy-wrapper thing. (If you really can't wait 20 minutes to eat candy, unwrap it fast. Please. It's not any quieter to take 30 seconds instead of two seconds. It just makes the noise last longer.)

But compared to things I've seen in 40-something years of regular theater-going, that's nothing.

I can remember at least five shows over the years during which someone in the audience decided it was OK to interact with the performers. It's always just one person, and he or she never figures out that he or she is the only one who thinks it's audience participation night.

A few months ago I was at a show in the Jaeb Theater at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. It was a play about a married couple, and there was cabaret seating. I was in the rear, and a woman at the next table shouted "Woo-hooo!" every time the couple kissed. But then it got worse. She started answering the actors' rhetorical questions.

"What's the purpose of a marriage?" the guy playing the husband asked. "To be happy!" the woman at the next table shouted to him. It went on for the whole show.

I saw a guy at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater try to lead the audience in a Tampa Bay Bucs cheer, while the cast and orchestra of "Rent" had to wait for him to finish before they could start the second act.

I was at a play with

a lot of nudity in a small theater in Tampa, and every time someone attractive was naked, the man next to me would moan and almost pant. I gave him a couple of sideways glances and finally a "Shhhh." At intermission he pointed me out to his friends and told them I was a jerk.

Not all the rude behavior comes from the audience, though. Years ago I saw a production of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" at the Jaeb. A young man in the audience quietly got up and started walking out. The lead actor asked him where he was going. "To use the bathroom," the young man said. The actor told him to sit down and hold it. He sat, noticeably embarrassed, and a few minutes later tried to slip out again. The actor yelled at him again but this time the young man ignored him. He left the theater and never came back.

There are so many more examples, including a guy who actually urinated on the floor of a 100-seat theater during a performance. (Out of sight of the audience, but we could all hear it.)

So what I'm saying is, if audiences in this era think unwrapping candies is one of the rudest thing you can do in a theater, that just means we have some exceptional audiences.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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