Please Don't Boo At Live Theater, NO MATTER HOW BAD IT IS -- It's Rude, And This Is Why

Booing the performers is like demanding to the manager that your waiter be fired because the bartender didn’t make your cocktail fast enough.

Jun 5, 2014 at 5:00pm | Leave a comment

I saw a really weird performance recently. It was part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s series, "DANSE: A French-American Festival of Performance and Ideas." I think the word  “DANSE” attracted an audience, myself and my guest included, that expected to see, well, a dance performance. But to call it “dance” would be a bit of a stretch. Let’s call it a “sight opera.”
 
In fact, as we walked to the falafel joint on Atlantic Ave after the show, I expressed my relief at not having been at this particular performance as part of my freelance assignment writing reviews for a dance website. “I would seriously have no idea how to talk about what I just saw,” I admitted, adding, “I think I would just write, like, ‘to fully explain the work in writing, I’d need you to get a little too stoned so that you’re kinda paranoid, and can’t imagine going outside and interacting with strangers. Then just lay on your back on the hardwood floor in your living room and listen to, like, a didgeridoo for an hour.’ Because that’s what this was.” To which my friend replied, “Yeah, except that sounds enjoyable.”
 
So, you know, it wasn’t for everybody. 
 
But I respected it. I know a little too much about dance to fully enjoy it sometimes. Like a lot of experts, I’m kind of jaded. So, weird is good. At least when something is weird, it means I haven’t seen it before. I have a degree in dance, and I perform it, and I make it, and I regularly watch it, and talk and write about it, and even I didn’t know what to call this. For me, that’s impressive.
 
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Performance art in Fort Green, close to BAM, where I managed to escape without anybody booing me. Courtesy of The Odyssey Project, directed by Jenny Koons.

 
However, for an audience member, it’s also pretty rude. This show was kind of like your boyfriend telling you you’re going on a date to the movies to see the latest Spiderman, except when you get in the movie theatre, it turns out to be a strip club. Or going to a strip club on a crazy night out, and then when you get inside it’s actually a library. Or wanting to hang out in the library and once the door is shut behind you it’s a rave.
 
In that situation you might demand your money back. You might write a strongly worded letter to the management. If you’re a douchebag, you might leave a terrible Yelp review. But I’m pretty cool, and I’m usually down for the movies or a strip club or the library or a rave. I’m down for anything but bowling, really, but thankfully people don’t really do that in New York City, except for at the place in Williamsburg where it’s also a concert venue.
 
Anyway, point being, if I expect to go to a dance concert, and instead it’s an hour-long conceptual commentary on a fashion show except really slow moving and with people crawling more than walking and set to super sad EDM, I’m all, “’K. This is better than the Nutcracker.” If I really felt like it was a waste of my time I might leave if it wouldn’t be too disruptive to the people next to me. Or I would employ any of the aforementioned displeasure-expressing mechanisms mentioned above. 
 
There is, however, one thing I would NOT do. Ever.
 
I will never boo.
 
I don't think this makes me unique, exactly. I have been living under the assumption that no grown-ass adult in a grown-up setting would ever do that. I believed we all reserved our boos for Medieval Times and terrible calls made by the refs that are SO OBVIOUSLY in the Miami Heat’s back pocket.
 
Last week I found out I was wrong. Last week, during the curtain call (in front of about two dozen fewer people than had been there at lights up), and to the most tepid round of applause I’ve ever heard in a room almost full of people, a man yelled, “Boo!” Repeatedly. 
 
I’m mad at myself for not saying anything at the time. I was scared because he was old. Like, really old. And for some reason my wonderful mother that instilled in me the manners that caused me to be wholly appalled and repulsed by his behavior also held me back from saying, “Are you kidding?! That is so incredibly rude that I’m actually disgusted. You need to stop.” 
 
There is another reason I was scared, I’m realizing now, as I write this furiously shaking with disappointment in the human race -- or at least the human race of New York City. This pitiful person who is obviously horrible enough to yell “Boo!” (repeatedly!) at a group of professionals bravely engaging in their life’s work is more than capable of saying who-knows-what kind of terrible things to me, and my skin is being really bad lately and I was tired and I didn’t want to cry in front of my friend. I don’t know if I could have handled it. 
 
But you know who’s an even bigger coward than me in that situation? People who boo! It’s not like you really need a huge sack to stand up in a dark room full of people you’ll never see again and say something cruel. This guy gets to remain a faceless, nameless miserable person who has no idea how to handle the fact that the creators of this piece did not have his personal satisfaction in mind. So now he gets the privilege of retrieving his immediate gratification by making everyone on stage and back stage and in the light booth and behind the sound board feel terrible.
 
Unfortunately, the people that get booed in these situations are not the people responsible for the disdain. By all measures, the performance itself was without reproach. It started on time, no technical glitches, plenty of attentive ushers, the performers weren’t drunk or smelly. It was a tightly run ship. He was displeased with the concept and having his expectations and personal definition of art dashed. Too bad the people responsible for all that were probably not even there. They’re probably in France being super cool and good-looking.
 
Booing the performers is like demanding to the manager that your waiter be fired because the bartender didn’t make your cocktail fast enough. Which this wretched old man probably does. He probably also rolls his eyes and groans when the train has to hold in the station due to an “incident on the tracks.” Then he goes home to his brownstone all grumpy and unchanged. It’s the old fogey version of internet commenting. Maximum impact. Zero repercussions.
 
So I am here to provide those repercussions, meanies everywhere. My platform is but small, but at least I’m not scared to put my name on it. At least I make and do and say things of which I can be proud. And I can teach my daughter to do the same. (Woe to her should she ever boo hard-working human beings within my earshot.)
 
The funny thing is, people think that this mentality of demanding to be catered to is purely millennial. Let it be known that there are enraged and entitled people of all ages, being all, “I have NOT received satisfaction.” 
 
Do you guys boo? Is there something I could have said that would have stopped him in his tracks and made him rethink how to live out the remainder of his days? I hope he sees this. I hope you ALL see this!