Wakefield Repertory Theatre production of Oklahoma! was wonderful, but it totally sucked

Last night I saw Oklahoma!, put on by Wakefield Repertory Theatre.

The acting and singing were great. Ashley Yarnell ("Laurey") is an amazing dancer and portrayed the character quite convincingly. James Shanda Hutchison ("Jud Fry") took some really creative liberties with the character that he pulled off nicely; instead of the more classic "stupid hick" caricature, he made him a more dynamic and realistic character whose social difficulties seemed to stem from maybe autism or schizophrenia.

Despite this, I came close to leaving several times during the show. For whatever reason, a large portion of the audience thought it was appropriate to talk throughout the entire show. The announcer did the usual bit about being respectful of fellow patrons and turning off cell phones and pagers, but I wonder if this crowd needed more specific explanation of how to act at a play. During the overture and entr'acte, most of the house was talking and laughing at full volume. It was pretty obviously live music, and the programs clearly listed that there was an orchestra. The audience quieted down a bit once dialogue started, but there was still audible chatter throughout the play. Some choice bits of conversation I was unable to tune out:

"Didn't they make a movie outta this?"

"My Chrissy has much better intonation than she do."

"Lynelle said that she's only been taking dance for two years."

"Yeah, so two of the people we egged on April fools got us back but the other ones haven't. How many'd you do?" (I should add that this conversation took place between adults.)

Along with other totally unrelated and totally audible conversations that I couldn't figure out why exactly they needed to take place during a play.

And yes, cell phones and pagers were going off frequently, and many people were answering them. Also, people near me were eating pretzels and Starburst. Someone was cracking gum every couple of seconds. There were large signs saying that no food or drink was allowed in the auditorium, but the production company was also selling snacks right outside, so I think they share the blame for this particular annoyance.

I really haven't been to many live performances lately that weren't professional or semi-professional (i.e., super expensive tickets, people will jump all over anyone who breathes too loudly), and I've usually ended up there because I'm onstage or backstage, so I couldn't hear much of the audience noise anyway. So I'm curious -- is this a normal occurence, or was this an anomaly? I'm wondering if this is a function of entitlement, or live productions becoming so scarce that most people don't go to them often, or just a weird quirk of the crowd this particular company attracts.

Whatever it is, it's really too bad, because the show was much better than many expensive productions in fully staffed theatres. These folks really deserve to have more appreciative audiences. Maybe someone could put together a community ushering program!


1 comment:

WRT said...

Hi. I'm the current president of WRT and I was doing a google search to see how our publicity efforts are doing and I found this posting. I appreciate the positive feedback on the show, but more importantly, I appreciate the feedback on the audience. I'm usually in the lobby so I miss the listening to how loud the audience is. Good to know, I plan on mentioning it to the board at the next meeting and plan to send the link.