“If you do want to stand up, know that your final decision will be definitive and 100% correct. Authentic, voluntary, high spirited standing ovations are truly uncommon things.”
Standing ovations are dished out like cocktail sausages. That’s right ladies and gentlemen. We are living in an era where hundreds of reasonably sensible people are falling over each other to leap to their feet and clap at the drop of a hat. Since when did ovations become so unavoidable? Is it because we have spent so much on a ticket? So often audiences appear fulfilled by work that is “not terrible” or that “could have been worse”. And then they get up on their feet and applaud. Very rarely I do too, credit where its due etc.
If you are one of these people, how often do you mean it? Would you stand up if the “posh people” around you didn’t, but the work you’d just seen had changed the very fibre of your existence? Because that is when you should get up and show your appreciation. If you do want to stand up – get up and know that your final decision will be definitive and 100% correct. Authentic, voluntary, high-spirited standing ovations are truly uncommon things.
We’ve all been in an auditorium where folk bounce up and down like a Jack in a box when it isn’t earned. There is a lot to be said about mawkishness around standing ovations.
Sunset Boulevard has got people up and out of their seats thanks to Glenn Close making sure the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ’50s noir-inspired musical was a triumph. Audiences gave a standing ovation the second she walked on the stage and before she’d sung a note. But this kind of ovation isn’t entirely for her performance but for who she is, her bona fide celebrity glamour and what she embodies. (I stood up too.)
I watched GYPSY at Chichester Festival Theatre and was all too happy to participate in a standing ovation for Imelda Staunton mid-song. It felt natural and I did so of my own free will. It was an almost instinctive experience whereby the entire audience spontaneously combusted. The audience, briefly, matched the show.
A standing ovation is a public situation, so I suppose is open to manipulation such as, for instance on Press Nights where family, friends and supporters gather to show considerable support for a production. Or in big shows like Bend it Like Beckham or Mamma Mia where the false-ending is cynically engineered to achieve a standing ovation from the people in the stalls. In any case, a standing ovation that has simply become part of convention is basically futile.
As a general rule I would suggest that you stand up and clap when someone delivers the goods (‘the goods’ being at least six exciting moments per show, usually more) Be open to life itself, and the surprises of life. Standing ovations have to catch us by surprise, when we are the least looking for them. So, half-hearted ovations are, in the very purest sense, a load of old nonsense. And there, it would seem, we have it.
Note: Article to be published in UK theatre Magazine- May 2016