Maybe I’m spoiled because Charleston really is that kind of town and there are some things we take for granted. Courtesy being one of them. We like our good manners and rightfully so.
Which brings us to the pre-show instructions on how to be respectful of your fellow audience members. These requests generally capture as much attention as a flight attendant’s pre-flight safety demo. We know how to buckle our seat belts. We know there’s a card in the seat pocket in front of us illustrating the exits. And yes, we’re aware that the nearest emergency exit may, indeed, be behind us. Still, I keep hoping one day to glance up from my reading as these instructions are being pantomimed in the aisle and find myself truly impressed. I long to compare notes with my seat-mates about that experience. “I felt she brought real verve and nuance to the material. When she got to the bit about only inflating the safety vest once outside the aircraft, I was moved.” But that’s me.
I do like that a number of Spoleto productions have taken the art of the gentle courtesy reminder to new levels of artistic expression and doing so in a way that actually reflects the spirit of their show. A couple examples.
The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs pre-show began with Apple’s default computer voice reading a list of don’ts and describing the dire consequences of failing to heed the prohibitions. It was clever, it fit the show’s topic and earned geek bonus points because it sounded like Stephen Hawking was telling you to behave.
Sadly, this didn’t get through to everyone. During a pivotal moment in Daisey’s monologue, a cell phone rang. Daisey stopped the show and waited. He explained, cheerfully, that when Spoleto staff had asked him if he had any special requests of them, anything at all, he had just the one. That they make clear, in the most rigorous terms, that cell phones should be turned off during the show. That’s all he’d asked for, he said. The point was made. Clearly put off his pace by the interruption, he wondered aloud, “Where was I?” Then resumed the show.
In a reverse psychology twist, Traces reminded people to leave their cellphones on so they wouldn’t miss an important call. And encouraged them to take as much video as possible to preserve this moment for their families. And would they please snap some flash pictures because it didn’t matter if this caused accidents to befall suddenly blinded performers. And lastly, to be aware that there were emergency exits everywhere because something awful could indeed happen at any moment.
It’s true. Awful things can happen at any time. So let’s all pretend our mothers are right there with us, coaxing us into good behavior. Please. And thank you.