The Beginning: May 8 – May 12 (Preview & Chart)

Look!  A list of plays that are playing in Chicago!  Go see one!  Go see more than one!
Look! A list of plays that are playing in Chicago! Go see one! Go see more than one!

Right.  Serious chat time.  Before I get to talking about this week’s chart and what plays on it excite me, I want to give a moment or two over to the topic of behavior.  Specifically, pre-show behavior.  On the part of those attending shows, those reviewing shows, and those who are on the production side of things (i.e. house managers, ushers, ticket sellers, actors, etc.)

You may or may not have realized this, but the experience of attending a play isn’t only comprised of the time spent viewing the performance itself.  For me, when I’m reviewing a show, I start making my observations long before the curtain rises (or in the case of most Chicago theatre performances, prior to the curtain speech).  That’s because as consumers of theatre, you and I are affected by what goes on around us.  A show may be objectively brilliant, let’s say that it’s the best show since the invention of footlights (the actual lights, not the theatrical program publisher), but that might not be the perception you come away with if an usher is horribly rude to you just moments before the show begins.

Human interaction goes both ways, though.  Audience members and reviewers can be badly behaved and have an effect on what’s to come performance-wise, too.

Well, that’s a bunch of generality that says very little, Chris.  What are you trying to get at?

Okay, so… I went to three plays this past weekend.  At each of the three shows I was directly reminded of my thoughts on the subject of how one ought to behave at the theatre.  Two of the shows for the worse.  One for the better.

The first show of the week was “Attack at Bikini Werewolf Beach: Part II”.  You can see my review on CenterstageChicago.com, if you so choose.  Occasionally, when I go to review a show, the various reviewers in town welcome each other, say hello, and chat a bit prior to the show.  That’s what happened at the press opening of “The Way West” at Steppenwolf earlier this year.  Even when the air of friendly familiarity isn’t in our midst, the reviewers normally know when the others are there.  So, I can safely tell you that there were 3 reviewers in the audience of the show on Friday night.  I can even tell you that given their reactions, the other two were split on their opinions of the show.  One was really into it.  The other looked like his childhood pet’s funeral was more enjoyable.  Nevertheless, their opinions of the production aren’t what I take issue with.  After all, it’s our jobs to have opinions, and I hope that mine aren’t exactly the same as anyone else’s, otherwise why would you bother reading my stuff?

No, what I take issue with is that one of the reviewers whipped out his phone/camera and took a picture of the set previous to the show.  That’s not a big deal, you might say.  But, really it is.  As reviewers, we are normally given photos by the producing companies to use in our stories.  They’re edited, and captioned, and everything.  They are also photos that we are given permission to use.  That is the rub, right there.  Now, I don’t hide the fact that I work in this field, in addition to critiquing it.  As a producer, I always make sure that my program states very clearly that no photographs are allowed.  Why?  Because the designs of each and every part of the production belongs to someone.  Namely, the designers.  That photo of the set was taken without the expressed permission of the set designer, and is therefore potentially infringing upon the designer’s rights.  Perhaps there were mitigating circumstances.  Perhaps the reviewer in question needed that photo to refer to later, to jog his memory while writing his article.  While I’d still take issue with shooting the photo to begin with, I can understand the reasoning behind that.  However, I watched said reviewer tweet the photo from his phone.  Just because one is a reviewer doesn’t mean that they get to do the things that the rest of an audience doesn’t get to do.  The title of reviewer doesn’t let you be a bad example.

At some point, I might accidentally (not so accidentally) start a war of words with another critic in town.  Douchebaggery is likely to be the cause.  If you write reviews, you’re already giving people enough reasons to dislike you from time to time.  Don’t ensure it by being an asshat*, too.

The 2nd show of the weekend was “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”.  (Review here).  I’d been having a pretty good night up until the moment that one of the house management/usher staff made my row move seats in order to create more seats together.  Here’s the thing:  I understand that a sold out show has to have someone that controls how the audience sits and makes sure that everyone can have a seat, preferably with the people they came with.  What I don’t understand is the lack of common courtesy in taking those actions.  The lack of “I’m sorry for the inconvenience”, or even a “Please”, is disturbing.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally go out to the theatre to be bossed around and treated rudely.  If that’s what I wanted out of my evening out, I’d go to Ed Debevic’s.  They do the rude thing in a fun way that’s expected.  Oddly enough, it colored the entire evening for me.  Not that it ruined my night, but it’s now three days later, and the two or three sentences said to me by the young woman are still affecting my feelings toward Porchlight’s operation.  Not too seriously, but enough that I’m writing about it.  Wot wot**?

Show #3 of the weekend was at the same place as show #2.  And so it is that I come to find that Stage 773 has a very friendly bartender with a lot of cool knowledge about the products they’re serving.  Makes for a great bit of ambiance prior to the show.  The house manager of that show was friendly and helpful, too.  All in all, I was put in a better situation to enjoy the show by decent treatment.  For those of us in the business of putting on plays, it has to be part of our job to make sure that our audience wants to see another play after this one, or we go out of business really quickly.  For those of us who review plays, we have to remember that our actions are not only for the benefit of our readers, but also those whom we write about.  We must treat both sides with respect.  We don’t necessarily have to be nice, but we do have to be fair.  And when it comes down to it, we have to remember to behave.

* Use of the word “asshat” is in honor of my former agent and friend, Tom Poole.  RIP.
** Use of the word “wot” is because it’s one of my favorite words that is seldom used nowadays.

Now… on to the chart for this week:  I’m seeing two shows for CenterstageChicago.com this week, and therefore will only be rolling the dice once on my own chart.  There are a number of new shows on there.  In fact, there’s nothing on the chart now that closes before June 1.  That’s sort of thrilling in a way.  It’s got me thinking about summer.  It’s also a bit scary in a way.  My own company’s “Master Works: The Degas Plays” closes on June 1 (it opens May 29, in case you want to attend).  Time is rushing by fast!

Ready for some randomness?  Here we go!

  • I can honestly say that I would never think to put Coriander, Peach, and White Pepper into the same food item.  Yet, I am currently in possession of a bottle of jam which does just that.  I’m going to have it on my peanut butter sandwich shortly.  Here’s hoping it’s tasty!
  • Life-long learning is important.  I am taking a class currently through a company called Coursera.  If you’ve never heard of them, check them out.  The class I’m doing right now is in Archeology.  I’m learning!
  • Trivia time! This week’s trivia comes from hookedonfacts.com: “Ancient Romans at one time used human urine as an ingredient in their toothpaste.” — Great.  I’m not sure that’s any worse than what’s in today’s toothpastes.  I’m sort of afraid to look at the ingredients list.
  • Plane tickets are expensive.
  • Giving a cat a 20-sided die can lead to many minutes, if not hours, of fun.
  • Upside down.  White, black, and gold.
  • I still use the Oxford comma.  I will not stop.  I also tend to use double spaces after periods that end sentences.  It’s my habit, and I like it.
  • I want to go bowling.