Professional entertainment, amateur audiences

Last night I attended the Conservatory of Performing Arts Ballet Program’s outstanding production of La Fille mal Gardée at the University Theatre at the University of Regina.

The production was just one more example of the incredible depth of talent we have here in Regina, demonstrated both by the young people who did the dancing and the adults who taught and guided them–in this case, Ana Maria Campos and Nathalia Barbara.

The two young leads, Marcelle Pieri as Lise and Wade McLean as Colas, were wonderful to watch. Marcelle in particular was delightful, lighting up the stage so that the audience fell instantly in love with her.

A personal highlight for me was the performance of Robert Ursan as Widow Simone. Little did I know, when Rob was best man at my wedding, that he would one day also make such an outstanding woman.

Many of the performances, as is often the case with supposedly amateur theatrical productions in Regina, were of professional calibre.

The same cannot be said, alas, for the performance of the audience members seated behind me. There, two ladies apparently shared the opinion that since this was ballet and no one on stage was talking, they were free to talk over the music and provide each other with an endless play-by-play analysis of the production.

Accompanying them were two small girls, who, following in their elders’ footsteps, not only provided their own commentary but also somehow between them managed to make a bag of potato chips last for the entire second act, first by slowly crunching each chip, then by (as near as I could tell without turning around) folding and refolding the bag in a vain attempt to turn it into a particular complex piece of origami. This was particular annoying since I had gulped down a large carbonated beverage prior to re-entering the theatre at the end of the first intermission in obedience to the sign stating “No food or drink in the theatre.”

Occasional annoyed looks behind me did nothing to elicit quiet, and I wasn’t quite prepared to turn around and say “Shhh!”, so I suffered in silence–and brooded.

What we need, I decided, is a national organization to set standards and provide accreditation for audience members across the country.

Called CLAP, for Canadian Live Audience Professionals, this organization would offer classes in audience behavior. Those who successfully completed the course of study, and passed a series of written and practical tests, would become fully accredited professional audience members, and would receive preferential treatment at theatres across Canada.

Eventually I foresee a day when only fully accredited CLAP members would even be allowed to attend live theatrical events or un-amplified musical concerts. (A subset of CLAP could be devoted to moviegoers.)

CLAPpers, as they would be called, would have a thorough grounding in the basics. They would know that one does not talk to one’s seat neighbor in a loud voice because it disturbs one’s fellow audience members and the performers on stage. (You can hear the actors talking, right? What makes you think they can’t hear you?)

They would know that one does not bring food items or mints wrapped in crinkly paper to the theatre, then spend several minutes opening them during quiet moments in the proceedings. (When I attended Sandra Shamas’s work in progress at Globe Theatre three weeks ago, a woman unfortunately did just that, earning a scathing comment from Shamas. Every actor who’s ever tried to play a scene while listening to crackling noises from the third row applauded her silently, though the audience seemed shocked. Had they all been members of CLAP, the issue would never have arisen.)

CLAPpers would know enough to turn off their cell phones, or at least set them to vibrate rather than ring, unlike the two individuals whose all-important communications punctuated two separate performances of Regina Little Theatre’s production of The Play’s The Thing a couple of weeks ago.

CLAPpers would know that while coughs and sneezes may not be entirely avoidable, they can be stifled to a certain extent, so that the rest of the audience does not miss important plot points and punchlines. They would know that if a child is brought to the theatre and that child starts to cry, that child should be taken outside immediately.

CLAPpers would know, in short, that a live performance is a one-time-only thing, that it cannot be rewound, replayed, or perfectly recreated. They would know that they are not watching TV in the privacy of their own living rooms, but are sharing with other human beings a unique artistic experience. They would know, therefore, to be attentive to the performers and considerate of other audience members.

We’re blessed in Regina with many fine professional performers. Isn’t it about time we developed some professional audiences?

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