Then we have ourselves a rowdy-dow. Ain't you never been to the theater before?
February 19, 2006 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Attending a show? You will, of course, be on time. You will not talk (or poke your fellow theatergoers). You will not use your cell phone. You will not bring your own food. You will not fight. You will not riot.

Audiences weren't always so sedate. Roman audiences were notoriously drunk. Shakespeare's groundlings were famously rambunctious. Victorian theater were hotbeds of prostitution. Indeed, it isn't until P.T. Barnam opened a lecture hall in his American Museum that "museum" standards of behavior became applied to audiences for live entertainment, and it never completely stuck (see Bill Landis and Michelle Clifford's wonderful Sleazoid Express for fascinating descriptions of the lively audiences found at Times Square's grindhouse theaters). But, for the most part, theater and moviegoing is now a civil, dignified undertaking. How did this happen?

Well, it all started one day in 1849.
posted by Astro Zombie (26 comments total)
 
I thought it all had begun with the use of cell phones, in which users whispered and didn';t pay much attention to what was taking place on stage.
posted by Postroad at 11:32 AM on February 19, 2006


One more link, this one describing a little bit of how vaudeville developed after the Astor Place riot, with specific rules for both audience and performer behavior, in order to bridge the gap between upper-class opera patrons and lower-class variety show audiences.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:40 AM on February 19, 2006


How about an average ticket price of $60 having something to do....
posted by skepticallypleased at 11:41 AM on February 19, 2006


I felt ready to riot after reading for half an hour waiting for a little bit of the old ultraviolence to start.
posted by Busithoth at 11:41 AM on February 19, 2006


I think this just serves as a warning to anyone who can't shut the fuck up during a movie.

"You remember what happened at Astor Place? Yeah, put that goddamned phone away."
posted by Mikey-San at 11:48 AM on February 19, 2006


Today's Pioneer Press gets to the ultraviolence a little quicker, albeit in less detail.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:49 AM on February 19, 2006


The first part of this post made me think this was going to be about Chan Marshall.
posted by bardic at 11:59 AM on February 19, 2006


Read them the Riot Act:
...That if any persons to the number of twelve or more, being unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously assembled together, to the disturbance of the publick peace, at any time after the last day of July in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and fifteen, and being required or commanded by any one or more justice or justices of the peace, or by the sheriff of the county, or his under-sheriff, or by the mayor, bailiff or bailiffs, or other head-officer, or justice of the peace of any city or town corporate, where such assembly shall be, by proclamation to be made in the King's name, in the form herin after directed, to disperse themselves, and peaceably to depart to their habitations, or to their lawful business, shall, to the number of twelve or more (notwithstanding such proclamation made) unlawfully, riotously, and tumultuously remain or continue together by the space of one hour after such command or request made by proclamation, that then such continuing together to the number of twelve or more, after such command or request made by proclamation, shall be adjudged felony without benefit of clergy, and the offenders therein shall be adjudged felons, and shall suffer death as in a case of felony without benefit of clergy.
And so forth — proposed this day as an amendment to the new member guidelines.
posted by cenoxo at 11:59 AM on February 19, 2006


Or Steven Merritt, or Ian McKaye or other notorious stage nazis (whom I all love--they can be kind of annoying though).
posted by bardic at 12:01 PM on February 19, 2006


I, for one, like noisy audiences, although I was beaten up in the Westwood riots listed above, and that wasn't fun.

So, to recap, I like audiences who talk back at the movie screen, but I don't like audiences who attack me.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:06 PM on February 19, 2006


I went to a movie in India and it's sort of still like some of what you mention....When the good guy comes on the screen people start hooting and hollering and some even throw the firecrackers that are small white pieces of paper looking and make noise when they hit the ground. The bad guy is hissed. The hot girl drives people wild. It can make even a mediorce movie fun.

(P.S. I've seen it occur in India for both American and Indian movies.)
posted by skepticallypleased at 12:21 PM on February 19, 2006


Somebody should let England know about this.
posted by srboisvert at 12:21 PM on February 19, 2006


I felt ready to riot after reading for half an hour waiting for a little bit of the old ultraviolence to start.

posted by Busithoth


Seriously. I read through that last link for twenty minutes, wending my way through that quaint narrative wondering "when are you going to describe what bloody happened??"

I figured at that point: eh, guys were upset with each other, there was a riot, the place was destroyed...I don't really need the details.
posted by darkstar at 12:25 PM on February 19, 2006


How about an average ticket price of $60 having something to do....

Sixty dollars? I've seen three plays this week and spent less than forty. Theater's not a Rolling Stones concert.

Very nice post.
posted by EarBucket at 1:49 PM on February 19, 2006


It seems to me that the sure-fire way to avoid a theatre riot is to not go see movies where gangs are a major theme. You don't hear about riots occurring during the showing of a romantic comedy...
posted by clevershark at 2:35 PM on February 19, 2006


You should.
posted by S.C. at 2:40 PM on February 19, 2006


Of course, it would be wrong to suggest this sort of mayhem began with rock-and-roll. After all, there were riots at the premiere of Mozart's 'The Magic Flute'. So, what's the answer? Ban all music? In this reporter's opinion, the answer, sadly, is `yes'. - Kent Brockman
posted by evilcolonel at 3:45 PM on February 19, 2006


Thank fucking god for Hemingway. The number of WPI (words per idea) in that last article was abominable.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:03 PM on February 19, 2006


I was taught that another component to the 'museum' aspect of the theater was Wagner's practice of dimming the lights at the beginning of his operas, which was part of his overall attempt to sweep the audience up into his vision.
posted by kimota at 4:24 PM on February 19, 2006


from that last link in the original post:

A perfect torrent of groans and hisses assailed Mr. Macready, and a deluge of assafoetida was discharged upon him from the gallery, filing the whole house with its pungent and not particularly fragrant odor.

"assafoetida!" what a word!
posted by mwhybark at 5:25 PM on February 19, 2006


Probably no one will attempt to fight. Nitrous oxide in the theatre seemed like a good idea. People injured themselves but didn't care.
posted by tellurian at 5:38 PM on February 19, 2006


Fascinating stuff. Thank you.
posted by Miko at 6:56 PM on February 19, 2006


tellurian: magnificent site you've linked there. thanks.
posted by trigonometry at 10:46 PM on February 19, 2006


I mentally ejaculate all the time.

My favorite response from improv players at the theater to folks who talk is: We’re not fucking television! We can hear you!

Works well.

Nifty post
posted by Smedleyman at 7:22 AM on February 20, 2006


my favorite new tidbit about audiences is that in the Globe Theatre, they sold beer by the jar, and generally sold more jars than the number of patrons. however, there were no restrooms. must've smelt loverly.

(no, no source but some person on Yahoo!Answers.)
posted by RedEmma at 11:26 AM on February 20, 2006


Yeah, RedEmma -- the Globe was an infamously disgusting place. There are loads of good sources on it that I'm too lazy to find right now; but I'm confident verifying your statement because we spent a lot of time on the topic in my Shakespeare seminar as an undergrad.
posted by Miko at 2:20 PM on February 21, 2006


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