Dear Dallas, I'll Concede Your Standing Ovations On One Condition

These are students giving President Obama a deserved standing ovation.
These are students giving President Obama a deserved standing ovation.
Patrick Michels

Friday night, I found myself doing the Dallas Do-si-do Ditch. It's a cute little shuffle that people here do after a show with the following steps.

    1. Wait for first moments of applause. 2. Jump to your feet without missing a beat. 3. Swing your partner out the aisle. 4. Promenade out the door.

I'm sure the 10s of other people doing it with me had really important places to go after a lovely, and not too long, evening at the symphony. I, on the other hand, was not in a hurry, although I certainly would've told you I was if you'd asked. I was avoiding the curtain call's inevitable standing ovation.

It's as though the audiences here just hate sitting down. After Friday's 70 minute symphony concert, the listeners around me leapt to their feet to cheer for the concert, shrouding my exit, which was a silent protest of the consistently hyper-enthusiastic response to performance in this town. But now I feel guilty.

As a nerdy pre-teen, a theater teacher taught me what "Break a leg" meant, which previously I'd thought was something passive aggressive playground bullies said as they pushed you down a slide. I was assured it wasn't a threat. In fact, the "legs" of the theater referred to the risers the audience's seats were on, so to "break a leg" meant your performance received so many standing ovations the riser collapsed. An alternative meaning was that in ancient Greece, they stomped instead of clapped, so they would literally break a leg in applause; or, in Shakespeare's time they might bang their chairs, thereby breaking a leg.

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My point is, audiences have always been enthusiastic about performance, and this has been seen as a positive thing. Over time, I've developed a snobbish opinion about the overuse of a standing ovation, because on occasion I've seen career actors like James Earl Jones or Alan Cumming and thought, "Now he deserves a standing ovation." After all, if we stand for every production of Phantom of the Opera that rolls through town, how will we express the difference between appreciation and being wholly moved by a work. But curtain calls don't allow for nuance, so I'll dismount my high horse and yield you the standing ovation, Dallas. It wasn't mine to give, but I'm washing my hands of my reservations.

On one condition.

You have to stay. A standing ovation is not a time to collect your purse, give a paltry cheer, and be on your merry way (y'know to avoid the traffic in the parking garage). Nope. If you're standing for a performance, you better mean it. You don't have anywhere better to be. You planned to be here, watching this symphony. So, either stand with your chums or stay on your bum. Because standing ovations are never rude. Performers want them. But rushing out is just plain rude.

This doesn't mean I'm going to start standing for every violin concerto. I'll stand when I'm moved, or when someone deserves special recognition. But I'll let it go. I'll stop talking my friends out of standing, or issuing dirty looks at the eye level asses who've stood. But y'all have to ditch the ditching. If you think something deserves your applause, stay and give it.

If you really want to ditch a show, man up and ditch during it. It's a much bigger statement.


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