Thursday, March 12, 2009

Please remain seated

It happened again yesterday: a standing ovation which I believe was undeserved. The play Impressionism is still in its preview phase so there’s been no critical appraisal yet. Perhaps the New York theatre critics will agree with yesterday’s audience and give the highest praise to the playwright Michael Jacobs and to the actors, especially Jeremy Irons and Joan Allen. In my opinion, however, the standing ovation was undeserved.

I’m not the first to notice the prevalence of standing ovations. It’s been a growing trend over the past few years. Given too freely, they diminish the standards of the work and of the performances. They also diminish the audience who show they will reward a mediocre or even a very good performance with highest praise.

Where’s the discrimination? Though I recognize tastes differ and it’s difficult to quantify a performance, it stands to reason that just because a play has ended is no reason for a standing ovation. Or because well known actors head the cast. Usually, one or two people rise in the front section of the orchestra. Then a few more, until finally the entire audience is on its feet.

I think the best standing ovations are those that arise spontaneously, when the whole audience shows its unified agreement with an immediate outburst of applause.An example is the current August: Osage County. The audience roared its approval and deservedly so.

I wonder if you remember the last time you stood up to applaud an exceptional performance.


  1. Barbara, it never fails that whenever I start wondering when you're going to have a new entry, voila! Boy, do I ever agree with you on this. I hate to sound like an old fogey, but it used to be standing ovations were extremely rare. And if you don't feel like joining in with the crowd you feel like such a jerk just sitting there. I think it goes along with the dumming down of America, mediocrity is now the new superb. What's a girl to do? Chris W.

  2. I so totally agree with you. There is an epidemic of ovation inflation. What are we supposed to do if something is REALLY good -- set off fireworks?!?!

  3. From Mike S:

    I couldn't agree more.

    It reminds me a little of my uncle's complaints about shows like Biography. He always talks about how the first few seasons of these kinds of shows profile Lincoln, Picasso, Laurence Olivier, and then by their tenth season or so, they're covering Kenneth Starr, Nora Roberts, and Keanu Reeves.

    Isn't the standing ovation thing a reflection of how most things are, unfortunately, watered down more and more all the time?

  4. From Nan M:

    Love it, love it, love it.

  5. i have to say, i love reading your blogs!!

  6. Your comments are in step with my personal thoughts at the conclusion of many performances I attend today. I haven't seen the Broadway show you refer to, but I know precisely what you mean by the "mandatory ovation". I recently went to a concert with my husband at the Bardavon Opera House, in Poughkeepsie, and while it was enjoyable and fun, it was not stellar. A musician we really like invited some "friends" to play with him and one was very good and one was adequate. Yet the crowd got to its feet and cheered the musicians on. I was thinking, "well, the main act was good, but that other guy doesn't deserve this hooting and clapping". But there I was following the crowd. It occured to me how everybody gets up all the time regardless of the quality of the performance. I think next time I am not getting up unless it knocks my socks off. And there you have it.

  7. From Laura Davis:

    I can recall looking a lot of rear ends because I refused to jump up overjoyed by a mediocre performance! I completely agree!!