Friday, January 05, 2007

OP-ED: No, Seriously, I Will Kill You.

It's bad enough I have to listen to your phone ringing, worse still that you might actually answer it, but I swear, if you start eating popcorn in the seat next to me, I will kill you. Cara Joy David reports today, on behalf of The New York Times, that Broadway theaters, in order to help their bottom line, are allowing audiences to bring their food back to their seats--to eat, one would assume, during the show. Dinner theater's one thing, but this is ridiculous, and only further proof that the industry, already catering more to spectacle-bound tourists than New Yorkers, is simply all about the "cheddar."

You can't treat theater like it's film. First off, it's not as loud. Theater, no matter how full of spectacle, will always come down to the subtlety of the actors. Whether it's the way they caress a note or lead with their chin, the show can be only as captivating as it is presented, and when your attention is constantly split between the stage and your slovenly neighbors, that's not too much. Hollywood films are explosive and turbocharged: their orchestral scores drown out popcorn crunches, and their screen is all-absorbing.

Oh, and by the way, theater's live. There's a reason Patti LuPone is perturbed by popcorn rustlers adding a crinkling accompaniment to Sweeny Todd. Helena Bonham Carter might not be distracted by you noshing along in harmony to her rendition of "Have a Little Priest," but do you think Tim Burton would let you sit there during the filming with a bag of Crunch 'n' Munch?

It comes at an odd time, too. Broadway just raised ticket prices. It just had a large holiday boom. It just got the hang of this luxury seating business. Why is the bottom line still hurting? Maybe Broadway needs to try balancing the books with a good show, and not just a two-ton house or a movie star. Also, if going to see
Tarzan depends upon being able to drink wine in a $12 spill-proof plastic cup during the show, you've got a problem.

According to Cara Joy David's article, Jim Boese, vice-president for the Nederlander Organization, allows guests to snack in their seats "to enhance the audience experience." Gerald Schoenfeld, chairman for the Schubert Organization, claims that it "annoys many patrons." Clearly, somebody is lying, and unless popcorn enhances your experience of Shakespeare, I think we know who.

[N.B. Ironically, back in the days of Shakespeare, theater was more visceral, and the poor, standing in the audience, were loud and rowdy. I'll still kill you if you open that bag of potato chips during the show, but I still can't really tell you why.]

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