CEDAR CITY – The world-renowned, Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival has become known for its impeccable delivery of some of the Bard’s finest pieces, but Friday night’s magic was unfortunately lost for those of us who sat stage right under the rainstage, due to a group of six women whose abhorrent behavior overshadowed the hard work and craftsmanship that had been put into the production.
The tiny Adam’s Shakespearean Theatre was packed to the brim with an eager audience who crowded into the “Big O” to witness the unfolding of the demise of King Lear (Tony Amendola) in this, the final season of performances by the USF on the historic stage.
It was easy to see the mastery of design that embodied the heavy theme of the play through well-organized and thoughtful garb (Rachel Laritz), lighting (Donna Ruzzika) and set composition (Vicki M. Smith).
The climate shaped by the eerie and sometimes thunderous sound effects (Joe Payne) would have most certainly set the mood for the evening – if only the woman sitting to the left of me would have stayed off of her cellphone long enough for that to happen.
Between her incessant texts – long enough to write a novella – and the musical chair foolery of those in the group with her (the group members danced between two rows of seating, climbing over the backs of seats, back and forth between the two rows), it was nearly impossible to relax and suspend my disbelief long enough to be swept away into the story unfolding on the stage.
The women were also incredibly noisy – talking incessantly during the performance.
The exquisite professionalism displayed by the actors – who never once broke character, despite the obvious lack of respect shown for their craft by the small group of cackling hens (and despite the fact that the group’s nearness to the stage without question made their laughter and comments perfectly audible to the actors) – showed proof-evident that USF actors are dedicated individuals. They were intent on providing a visceral experience to those who were lucky enough to be seated in a different section than I was.
The somber play, which tore apart the life of each character on the stage, brought with it a lightness through the dark humor and honesty delivered by the Fool (David Pichette), who tried his best to offer insight to the rash King Lear. The delightful antics and boldness of character displayed pushed through the tenuous atmosphere and tugged my attention back where it belonged – on the play.
As I attempted to become fully immersed in the skylarking of the impetuous daughters of the king, for a moment, the rest of the room melted away – just in time for intermission.
As a longtime patron of the Adam’s Shakespearean Theatre, it almost goes without saying that this is typically the time when the outdoor nature of the venue takes on an almost magical transition from day to night as the sun bids its farewell and stars begin to appear.
It is a time of reflection on what has already been revealed in the performance, which usually builds anticipation for what’s to come – not to mention it feels good to stretch your legs after sitting for an hour-and-a-half.
Quietly walking around the Southern Utah University campus as the sun went down Friday night was a rejuvenating 15-minute venture. It gave a sense of false hope that for the final half of the play there would be an opportunity to get lost in the production.
Settling back into my seat, G-126, as the final horns blew signaling that “King Lear” was about to reconvene, I was surprised to find that the four people who had been sitting directly in front of me had not returned for the second half of the play.
Since three of the women who had made spectacles of themselves during the first half had been sitting directly to their left, while the other three sat directly to my left, I can only assume the four now-absent ticketholders had grown tired of their nonsense and either moved or left.
Though I was sad to think that four people paid so much money to enjoy a USF production but were driven out by the reprehensible actions of these unsophisticated women, the short girl in me was excited at the opportunity to see the stage unobstructed.
The railings, which had been replaced with blackened logs along the upper level, combined with the fixtures and simple props, set the perfect mood for King Lear’s undoing and the spiral that ensues as everyone’s life unravels.
Fog spilled out onto the set, and the actors reappeared as darkness fell on the theater. The blue light cast from the eaves of the Adam’s created an uneasy glow on the actors as they entered the stage and commenced in their masquerade.
“Uhmmmm, yeah, I think I should maybe try to go now…. What, hee hee hee, yeah… yeah… hee hee hee, yeah…,” the woman to the left of me yammered on to her unseen companion at the other end of the cellphone connection.
After a stern look and a swift but quiet “No!” was communicated by her obviously embarrassed companion (the only one of the six who seemed to have been to a theater before), she hung up 4 minutes into the second half of the play and reluctantly Facebooked instead.
The actors, unaffected by this behavior, continued to unfold Shakespeare’s tale of adultery, conspiracies, betrayals, murder, treason, dissent and schemes — even as the three women in the row ahead of me talked among themselves and giggled throughout.
As the plot began to thicken, crescendo moments, such as the eyes of the Earl of Gloucester being ripped from his head by the Duke of Cornwall, were drowned out by laughter and mocking bellows of “how fake” it all looked to the women in the row ahead who had now moved into the empty seats in front of me.
Bad manners; here, there, everywhere
This type of behavior is a growing trend that has sparked vast discussion across the nation in the past week.
In the case of Seaford, Long Island, Playbill.com reports, audience member Nick Silvestri, who had a few drinks before the play he was seeing, hopped on a Broadway stage to charge his phone in a fake outlet that was part of the set. He reportedly had no clue what the big deal was, the Playbill report said.
In another cellphone mishap on Broadway, Tony Award-winning actress Patti LuPone reportedly snatched a phone from a texter during a play without even breaking character, and in an article published by Broadway.com, she admonished two theatergoers for noisily munching down a bag of popcorn.
There is such a thing as theater etiquette, and it is sad when patrons are not aware of how their behavior impacts the actors and the other audience members.
“There is a huge discussion about this in the theater world this week,” Jeb Branin, SUU theater professor and associate dean and executive director of experiential learning, said.
According to Playbill, an attendee at a recent Broadway performance of “Cinderella,” seated on the front row, took out his iPhone and videotaped the scene being performed with the camera’s flash on.
At another performance, the same article reports, a bold audience member decided to Facetime from the front row with her phone facing the stage, allowing the person she was Facetiming with to watch the show free of charge.
“Audiences that are ill-behaved ruin shows,” Branin said, clarifying that he meant for specific companies, not theater overall. “And serious patrons who think that happens as the norm may well never return.”
A website dedicated to the sale of tickets for Broadway productions put together a simple etiquette guide that can easily be applied to any theater production a patron attends anywhere.
Actors, production teams, directors, set designers, costumers, sound technicians, orchestra performers and countless others spend innumerable hours pouring a small piece of themselves into each and every onstage performance at many of these venues, including USF. Show them the respect they deserve while in their home and allow them the opportunity to either flop or completely enthrall the audience.
Had just a few manners been applied by these women while they were attending the USF production of “King Lear” Friday night, it is my belief the latter of the two would have been the overwhelming outcome.
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