The Republic of T.

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“You Either Have It, Or You’ve Had It”

The 62nd Annual Tony Awards - Show

The title of this post is from the musical Gypsy. The song is “Rose’s Turn,” and Broadway star Patti LuPone — whose Great White Way resume is too long to recount here — was in the middle of performing this number when she decided she’d had it and let an audience member have it.

Tony Award winning star Patti LuPone abruptly stopped her performance of Broadway musical Gypsy – to eject a picture-taking theatregoer from the show.

Stunned by a patron who wouldn’t stop taking photographs during the second act, the veteran singer/actress demanded the lights be turned on and cameraman escorted out after flashes continued to go off despite previous warnings by production staff.

Lupone stopped singing to unleash: “Stop, stop, stop taking pictures right now. You heard the announcement. Who do you think you are? Get them out. How dare you? Who do you think you are? I won’t continue with them taking pictures. Get them out.”

To the music of boisterous applause, she continued before bursting back into song: “Turn the lights back on. They’re right back there. Three times, three times you took a picture. You heard the announcement in the beginning, you heard the announcement at intermission, who do you think you are? This is a theatre.

“I have to say this: We have forgotten our public manners. And we have forgotten that we are in a community, and this is the theatre, and every single one of you, all of you, except for that person has respect for that. And I and the rest of the company appreciate it.”

There’s audio of the moment — and, yes, I fully realize the irony here, though it’s not quite the same — available via YouTube.

Well, let me be among those whose say, “Good for you, Patti.”

That’s right. I said it.

No, it wasn’t a “diva moment.” It wasn’t “terrifying.”. It wasn’t a “freak-out.” It was a richly deserved dressing down of some who who should have been kicked out of the theater after the first “click.”

These days, the closest I come to “being in the theater” is about 5th row, center. But my background is originally in musical theater, and I did a lot of it through high school and college. Part of my education included not just how to behave during a performance, but how to support performers during the performance.

I realize that’s not the norm. But it doesn’t require much sense to figure out that you don’t talk or take pictures during a performance. (At least not a Broadway performance. If you want to snap a few pictures at your kid’s dance recital, etc., you probably won’t have any trouble doing that.) And even if you don’t have that much sense, in every theater on Broadway you will hear a recitation of all the things you’re not supposed to do: take pictures, talk, talk on your cell phone, unwrap your goodies from the concession stand, etc. I’m sure that’s true for the St. James theater, where LuPone was performing. Because it’s on their website.

Why can’t you take pictures? If you have to ask, you don’t belong in a Broadway theater or any other theater, including your local multiplex. But, basically, because it stops the show. It stops the show for your fellow audience members, whose attention can’t help but be diverted from the stage to that annoying flash. (And it would have to have been a flash for LuPone to have seen it from the stage.) It stops the show for the performer who can’t help noticing that annoying flash that’s probably occurring at an intense moment in their performance.

It interrupts the performance for both the performer and your fellow audience members. (The audio recording, while just as wrong, at least did not have the effect of interrupting the show for everyone else.) It disrespects both those who’ve paid for their tickets, many of made a special effort to to afford their tickets, and for whom the performance is a rare and hard-earned treat. It’s disrespectful to the performers who have perhaps spent years working and training, and who’ve spent days, weeks, and months working on this performance, only to you stop the show to snap picture that probably won’t come out that well (due to the lighting, etc.) and could probably be purchased in the lobby — and a better quality copy, at that — if you must have one.

And yes, LuPone did stop the show. But she didn’t stop it first. The show had been stopped three times. Keep in mind, “Rose’s Turn” comes toward the end of the show. That means that LuPone, the rest of the cast, and the audience had endured three show-stopping moments from the feckless photog. Three times, nobody — not even LuPone — said anything about it. It seems no one in the audience even complained to theater management and demand the shutter bug either stop or be thrown out.

Instead, except probably for some exasperated sighs and icy stares that rolled right off the oblivious photographer, they just quietly endured it.

Some people applaud what she did – and certainly the audience was loud in its approval, as heard on the audio – but others, myself included, think she was way off base, interrupting a show to address some lout in the audience.

Most theaters have ushers to keep the audience under control and toss out troublemakers, and the actors should leave those matters to them. For that matter, if someone was being annoying enough, the audience members would probably rise up and run him off.

But actors are taught to keep the show moving if at all possible, and stopping the orchestra and breaking character brings the show to a screeching halt. I’ve seen young performers keep on singing and dancing while alarms were ringing – if they can do that, surely a pro like LuPone can deal with someone being rude.

Of course, her character in Gypsy is a big diva – so maybe she was just so into character that she couldn’t help herself.

I wasn’t there, so maybe she was justified – but it sure seems to break every rule in theatre.

And that’s part of the problem. Maybe we don’t want to “make a scene,” because we’ll probably be just as subject to criticism as Patti LuPone. Maybe we don’t speak up because we’re afraid of being called or perceived as “elitist.” (When LuPone asked “Who do you think you are?” of the repeat offender, she wasn’t being elitist. She was asking “Who do you think you are that the rules of this theater don’t apply to you? Who do you think you are to disrupt the show for the rest of the audience? Who do you think you are to disrespect the performers by repeatedly disrupting our work?”_) But too often we simply shake our heads and click our tongues at boorish behavior, and later wonder why it keeps happening.

I’m willing to bet that the picture-snapper in the audience has done this before, or engaged in some other ill-mannered, inconsiderate behavior many times in the past, because people quietly endured it. That’s how boorish people get to go right on being boorish.

LuPone said, “We’ve forgotten our public manners.” The truth is, we’ve been bullied out of them, and bullied into excusing and making excuses for just the kind of behavior that LuPone had her fill of that night.

Show-stopping moments are nothing new in Patti LuPone’s career, but this is one that was long overdue. Not just for LuPone, and not just in the St. James theater that night.

2 Comments

  1. Good for her!

    We really do need to take back civility, but the rude have all that intimidating rudeness on their side, as well as people who think politeness and manners are tools of the ruling class, or whatever the cant is this week.

  2. I think what Patti did was fabulous! There’s too many people who are too terrified to speak up anymore. I think it started when folks became afraid to say what they feel for fear of being labeled “judgemental.” Well, I’d rather be called “judgmental” and stand up for what’s right and decent than sit still for rudeness any day, and it looks like Ms. LuPone is in agreement with me on that! Brava, Patti!

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