Disrespectful Audiences

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    David Ice

    At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, but I’m horrified by audience behavior this season.


    I was inducted into an honor society the other night. Most of the inductees were much younger than I but a few were older.

    As we were lined up to process into the auditorium there were several people stationed along the line admonishing us that the sound would carry into the auditorium if anyone spoke as we were processing.

    The murmur-hiss of whispering ebbed and flowed to a fortissimo as we reached the door.

    Apparently there were several inductees who thought that although we shouldn’t be talking before entering, it was A-OK to chat while we were waiting to be honored! Discussion continued over the invited speakers.

    I used to blame this solely on TV, since there’s no need to be silent while the TV is on, but now I blame it on the proliferation of noise in our society, coupled with the sense that each of us is much more important than anyone else and thereby entitled to pipe up at any time a thought occurs.

    When I was teaching general music, I gave a lesson once in a while on the place of SILENCE in performance. Some of the kids weren’t aware that there was such a thing. What a novel concept- no noise at all!

    David Ice

    Maybe what I should/could do is videotape some of these events, and make sure I get a sound mix that emphasizes these idiots, and give them a DVD of their “special moments” and let them see/hear for themselves.

    I’m taping today’s concert, but alas those idiots won’t be in the same seats again….or at least they better not be!

    I think you’re right–people are so bombarded with noise that they don’t think beyond their own noses and realize that people are PERFORMING for them and they need to show basic respect and SHUT UP!


    Don’t even get me started on this one. My partner is a critic in Boston, and we go to live performances 4 or 5 times a week during the season. The number of times I have had to tell someone to shut up I couldn’t even count. At one performance a woman behind me, maybe in her 50’s or 60’s talked to her husband, in a normal voice, through the whole first half of the performance. As soon as the lights went up at intermission I let her have it. I blasted her for more than a minute while everyone within 100 feet stood there and watched. The theater was a quiet as a morgue for the second half.

    At a Dawn Upshaw concert 2 years ago, an old bag in a designer suit(she must have been 80) made a call to her driver during the second encore to tell him to come pick them up. When the encore was over I turned around to let her have it. Before I could say anything the woman directly behind me(the offender was 2 rows behind me) said,”How much will you pay me to slug her in the face?”

    I’ve learned a few things about rude people at concerts. 1) They won’t shut up until someone tells them to shut up. 2) If you’re going to tell them to be quiet, do it in the loudest and rudest way you can, so that everyone around can hear you. The person you are addressing will either get very belligerent

    (rarely), or not say anything back. In both cases though, they will not make another sound for the rest of the evening. Neither will anyone else in the audience. Depending on the situation, I usually tell them loudly and as long as possible that they are misbehaving. With the woman on the cell phone, I chewed her out for as long as the applause lasted.

    If anyone is going to force me to put limits on their offensive behavior, I want them to know that there is a heavy price to pay. In the case you stated, someone-an usher, someone from the performance, whoever- should have gone right up to them and, in a voice that the whole audience could hear, tell them that they were rude and offensive.

    I heard years ago of a famous pianist stopping his concert because someone was talking in one of the front rows. The pianist just sat at the piano and starred at the person. When the person finally realized he was being singled out and stopped talking, the pianist said to him, in a voice that the whole audience could hear “Either you leave or I leave.” The person got up and left.


    Where were the ushers?!! It is their job to corner folks like that and politely ask them to continue their conversation in the lobby. And upon the second offense, escort them out of the hall. This is a House Manager problem as much as an audience problem.


    I thought of one more thing. I have a 92 year old aunt who went to the Metropolitan Opera every week from 1939 to 1967. She told me that when the opera being performed was Italian or French, there was the usual noise in the audience. When the opera was German, you could hear a pin drop in the hall. The audience for German opera was infinitely more respectful than for other performances. So I think that much of it is cultural.

    I don’t know if this is true in other states, but in Massachusetts, starting maybe 5 or 6 years ago, all performances start with an announcement about exits and emergencies, but also an announcement to turn off all cell phones and to not text or talk during the performance. It’s helped some. But for that reason, when someone does talk anyway, I go ballistic.


    I don’t think you’re a curmudgeon, David. I never go to movies in public theaters any more because people treat the venue like their living rooms. It’s a sad development in our times.

    We have announcements regarding cell phones before concerts in Laramie and it helps most of the time. The ushers also offer cough drops when they take your tickets.

    — Alice in windy Wyoming


    I wish that audiences would be more proactive when it comes to rude behavior. If more people spoke up, then it would become known that rude behavior is not tolerated. I also wish that all programs had a page that told people, in no uncertain terms, how to behave and how not to behave in a theater. Again, until people and management demand considerate behavior it is not going to happen.

    It’s just as bad in museums. I was in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston recently and there were three high school girls that were rubbing their hands all over a large painting. I barked like a drill sargent from across the gallery for them to stop. They looked at me like I had no business telling them what to do and did it again to another painting. At that point I went to the front desk and told the people there what was happening. Three guards ran with me to the gallery and the guards talked to them. They should have been thrown out.

    harp guy

    Considering that I usher concerts fairly regularly… I have no problem escorting people out of the hall, revoking their tickets, or whatever it takes to maintain a quiet atmosphere.

    On the opposite end of things… one of the rudest audiences I’ve ever played for was a very small audience. It was a series of solo performances in a recital, and they refused to applaud for anyone that they weren’t close friends with. It was the only time I have ever had ONE person applaud for me. I didn’t even bow. I ended up getting up and walking straight offstage without acknowledging them (they talked as well).


    Back in my symphony days we were doing a Young People’s Concert, playing in the pit as there was a stage show accompanying the music. Right before one piece began, a baby started screaming two rows behind the conductor. He waited for the screaming to stop- which seemed eternal, but the mother never budged. Finally he turned around, stared her straight in the eyes, and said “MADAM, PLEASE LEAVE” in the loudest-slowest-coldest-Lurch voice I’ve ever heard. Just thinking about it makes my blood run cold! She and the still crying baby left and the concert continued. Could he get away with that now?


    I agree that concert hall decorum has gone the way of the dodo. The most egregious thing I ever witnessed was during a youth orchestra concert. As a young cellist was performing a concerto beautifully, the teen-aged oaf next to me kept sighing loudly, shuffling, making noise, and showing everyone that he did not want to be there. I turned to him a few times and stared at him, and finally I quietly said to his mother, “Why doesn’t he leave if he doesn’t enjoy the concert? He’s ruining it for everyone.” Then the man in front of her turned and said, “My four-year-old daughter has better concert manners than that son of yours.” The woman, with her progeny, then got up and left as obnoxiously as possible, complaining as loudly as she could, destroying any vestige of enjoyment the audience could have had. Unbelievable. The poor cellist; I don’t know how he was able to play, and his archival recording of the piece was destroyed as well.

    Philippa mcauliffe

    The best behaved audience I have seen this year


    It seems unbelievable to me that people have to be taught consideration, but they do. So back to my original advice: If someone is making noise or behaving badly, they are going to continue to do so until someone tells them to stop. What I always resent about this is that these people force ME to set the limits on THEIR behavior, and for that reason I’m purposely as obnoxious as the situation permits when I tell them off. I don’t ask them to be quiet. I tell them, loudly, to SHUT UP!!! And trust me, it works.


    Georgiana, you may be onto something. It seems when we were little, and even when I started teaching elementary school 20 years ago, we had many special visitors, musicians, puppet shows, magicians, etc, in school several times every month. We always had the fear of God put into us to not disturb anyone or the performer, and to show our best school manners. [I still do that, by the way, and whenever my class goes anywhere we’re always complimented on the outstanding behavior. (I can do this thing with my eyes that makes even the toughest kid crack.)]


    Yes, when I was in school, they spent a tremendous amount of time and energy in the first few grades teaching us to be quiet, and re-teaching us in junior high. If the schoolteachers are lax, then everyone will suffer. I spent many hours in second grade standing in the corner for talking in class, or writing on the blackboard hundreds of times, “I will not talk in class.” It simply has to be taught and drummed in over and over again. Unfortunately, electronic/digital devices simply empower people to be rude and create a sense of entitlement. It’s a colossal battle. Ushers are not always allowed to police the interior or expected to. It is a house management issue, but there are not always ushers and house managers. However, I cannot forget the ushers at the Broadway Theaters and New York State theater. They were either, alumni of the roller derby, mafia matrons, or just the meanest, nastiest older women they could find, but they sure were effective!

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