Get Yer Box Candy In The Aisle!

audience

On Tuesday, my dad and I were settling in to our seats in the orchestra section of the Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre, Playbills in hand, waiting for the performance of “Spring Awakening” to start. It was shortly after seven and we had arrived there very early because we didn’t think that it would only take five minutes to walk from the hotel to the theater. (Although, I happen to walk very fast.)

As people were filing in to their seats in the theater, a man that was wearing a Broadway in Chicago tag carrying a large, green insulated rectangular box started walking up the aisle, yelling about the bottled water, Twizzlers and Rasinettes he was selling as though he was selling hot dogs and beer at Wrigley Field. Perplexed, I pulled out my Blackberry, turned it back on (I turn off my Blackberry before I enter the theater, natch) and twittered about it. I then promptly turned off my Blackberry after I had finished the tweeting.

What was confusing about this was that this was occurring at a Broadway in Chicago theater. If you were sitting in the orchestra section, you probably paid $90-$95 for your ticket. Any of the community theaters I’ve seen plays at don’t do this and neither do any of the storefront theaters that I’ve seen shows at. (I’m, of course, using these examples because some people view these as being lesser than Broadway and Broadway in Chicago.)

It would seem to me that this practice almost encourages people to play with their candy wrappers during a show–which, thankfully, didn’t occur at the performance of “Spring Awakening” I was at. If you sell concessions in the theater as well as in the lobby, aren’t you encouraging people to bring buckets of chicken in to a theater. (Which reminds me, how do you sneak a bucket of fried chicken in to a theater? Are ushers really that passive now?)

A Broadway tour or a Broadway show is, to many people, a big fancy show you get dressed up to go see. Although, many people don’t dress up to go to touring shows or Broadway productions and I was actually thanked by an usher at the Gershwin Theatre on Broadway for dressing nicely when I saw “Wicked.”

I have no problems with selling bottles of water, or even popcorn out in the lobby. For one, bottled water is very nice for those of us who have dry throats or bad coughs. And on that note, a bottle of water is not as noisy as a cough drop wrapper. But when you sell any sort of concession in the theater, you really begin to demean theater and drop it down to the level of a, well, baseball game. (No offense to baseball, I myself happen to enjoy watching baseball games.)

And, besides, it’s not like Broadway in Chicago is struggling to bring in money.

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5 thoughts on “Get Yer Box Candy In The Aisle!

  1. Monica,
    Are you going to write a review or a simple commentary on what you saw last night? I would love to know your opinions of the piece!

    Sam

  2. When I first saw your posting (title) and a snip of your rant, I figured, “not a big deal”, then I read the whole thing and I agree with you. I’m not as annoyed about the possibility of noise during the show as I am about the tackiness of some guy wandering around, yelling about the stuff he’s selling. Before a show and during intermission I would like to be able to converse with the people around me about the acting (or lack of), what I thought of their interpretation of the script and speculation about what remains. I want to only have to talk over the other people doing the same and not have to over-talk the guy yelling about refreshments (which could be purchased in the lobby).

  3. Sam, I will not write a commentary on what I saw last night because of it being a new work that is still being worked on. Because of that, I feel as though I shouldn’t publicly analyze a show that I just saw a concert reading of. It would be like reviewing a workshop for a show.

    John, I do agree with you. For me, the tackiness in this case does out weigh the possibility of someone rustling with a Twizzler wrapper during the show. People are going to make noise during a play whether or not it is encouraged, unfortunately. However, to my knowledge, this only occurred before the show. I’m not positive about whether or not it occurred during intermission because I was out in the lobby during intermission, talking about the show with my dad.

  4. I appreciate your post. I have thought about this topic myself, and my feelings on the matter are mixed. Several years back I attended a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet (with Simon Russell Beale as the lead) at the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. I was in grad school at the time and attended the show with a few of the other Americans in my program. No sooner had we settled into our seats, we were met with the sounds of chatter AND chips (crisps, to be accurate) being chomped. We collectively experienced shock followed by annoyance and disapproval. I have never had that kind of theatre experience in the U.S., nor, thankfully, did I have bad ones to the extent of what happened that day at the Gaiety at other shows I attended while in Dublin. However, I must say that regulation of snacks and beverages in theatres there was undoubtedly laxer than it is here. At the same time, the cost of attending quality productions of repertory plays and new works at major theatres there, such as The Gate and The Abbey, was considerably less than attending an equivalent show at an equivalent venue in the U.S.

    Your post makes me think, once again, about the connections between theatre etiquette, cultural norms & differences, and simple economics. I think U.S. theatre still struggles to overcome the label of ‘high’ art–again, cost being the major factor here, which dictates to a great extent audience demographics, and so on. I wonder what would happen to American theatre if ticket costs were lowered and concession restrictions were eased? Would all hell break loose? Would theatre audiences have more class diversity as they did in Shakespeare’s day? Would more people attend the theatre as they do in Dublin and elsewhere in Ireland?

  5. From what I have observed at the theater, audiences are actually better behaved at the shows with lower ticket prices. The bad behavior that people are reading about in the paper and online is occurring at theaters where tickets are more expensive, like Broadway and the West End. There are some people who argue that they should be allowed to do this because they’ve paid $90-$127 to sit in the orchestra section. Although I personally think that is a pile of bullshit, but I do have to wonder if people really do wonder that because people who pay less for their tickets seem to behave better. At least, at the community theater I reviewed, people who went to the shows with less expensive tickets didn’t nearly bludgeon me with a water bottle, unlike those that attended the shows with more expensive tickets.

    I do think that by lowering ticket prices, more people do come to the theater. One theater I used to review lowered their student ticket price to $10. Sure enough, more students came to the first show that this applied to. As for concessions restrictions being eased, I am fiercely against this because I think that it is distracting. Sure, actors in Shakespeare’s time probably were used to people eating bread in the standing room. But I can personally say that someone eating in the audience is very distracting. I can also say as an audience member that someone rustling with candy wrappers is very distracting. Although, I did attend a play this year that was so terrible, the rustling of a candy wrapper was a nice thing to take my mind off of the pain I was in watching the show.

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