Thursday, January 1, 2015

Etiquette and Talkers in the Theatre

A Letter To the "Dramatic Editor" of the New York Times, Regarding Talkers in the Theatre ...
Will she and the whispering playgoer please leave the room!

"Please take up the matter of ushers ~ generally girl ushers ~ and theater employees generally who hold pink teas at the rear of the orchestra rows during performances. I consider this a greater nuisance than talkers in the audience. The latter at least have paid to enjoy themselves, but the ushers are paid to serve the best interests of the theatre patrons and not to hold social reunions every performance.

This actually happened to me at Wallack's during the performance of "The Doctor's Dilemma." A girl usher entertained a young man "follower," chatting so loudly that it was impossible to concentrate on the play. I was seated on the right I'll and the conversation was going on in the rear of the left, so you can see how loud it was. I asked my usher to kindly request the two talkers to see us during the play. The message came back that they would talk all they pleased. "She won't stop." Said my usher; "It's the head usher's day off, and no one else can stop her. You can change your seat and take one near her if she disturbs you." "But" I said "surely an usher is not allowed to disturb an audience, especially in a play that is all dialogue, no action. I will report her at the box office if she does not cease. I shall not change my seat." This message in due time reached the usher, and this is one she sent back to me: "Go and report me at the box office all you please. It won't do you any good." 

Meanwhile, 'Arry and 'Arriet were looking daggers at me and openly showing their scorn. A manager came in, and then my usher went to him and explained the situation. Then she came to me "He has asked her to keep quiet." she said "and I guess she will for him; she likes him. Gee, it's fierce the way she and that fellow talk and laugh during the performance! But what can you do?"

Now, this is written just as it happened. I did not report it to Mr. Barker, who has spent so much time and thought on giving us ideal performances too much time to be at the mercy of chattering girls ushers ~ because I knew the season was almost over and the theater would be torn down over the chatterer's head. That is one way I thought to get rid of an annoying usher ~ tear down the theatre! At Forbes-Robertson's "Hamlet" I heard more about the latest styles in hats and the latest beaux from the ushers in back of me than I did the "melancholy Dane." The next time I attended a performance there I asked the man in the box office which was to have the right of way, "The Passing of the Third Floor Rack" or the girl ushers? Upon his assurance that Forbes-Robertson was what I was paying to hear, and that the ushers would perform another day at cheaper prices, I gave that theatre another trial.

The other night at the Standard there was a constant noise of loud voices in the foyer and much slamming of doors and arguments at the rear of the orchestra seats. In this instance the ushers were well-behaved. It was the men connected with the business end of the theatre who offended. Take almost any vaudeville house and you will see that there is a constant chattering between the ushers, the clean-up boys, the coat-room boys, the firemen and allcomers.

It has always been a mystery to me why even first-class New York theatres permit this display of disregard of their patrons and bad manners in their house employees. The rear seats in the orchestra cost just as much as the forward ones. I generally attend the Saturday matinee, paying $2.00 for a rear orchestra seat. If those who occupy the rear rows in the orchestra are encroaching upon the pink teas and kaffee klatches of the ushers and their admirers, why not give us a rebate? Give us noise checks.

It's really a shame, I think, for playwrights, managers, and players to spend so much time, thought, and money on the splendid productions of our New York theatres to have the whole effect spoiled by the untutored "enemies" of their own house staff. We have schools for sales persons, why not schools for ushers? The average usher from the movie house to the most exclusive temple of the drama seems to feel that the theatre is his private palace and we of the audience his ladies-in-waiting and his humble retainers and pensioners.

I haven't anything against the girl usher personally. I have the greatest sympathy and spirit of helpfulness toward any person working his or her way: but I do feel that here is something so unjust and so glaring in its offense against courtesy that it should be scored. And, since you have taken up the cudgels for those who suffer from talkers in the audience, won't you come to the rescue of those at the rear of the orchestra Who are forced to endure the things of which I complain?"

New York, April 7, 1916, Sincerely, L. A. S.


 Some Theatre Manners of the Day



“Very Inconsiderate To Giggle And Talk"
Nothing shows less consideration for others than to whisper and rattle programmes and giggle and even make audible remarks throughout a performance. Very young people love to go to the theater in droves called theater parties and absolutely ruin the evening for others who happen to sit in front of them. If Mary and Johnny and Susy and Tommy want to talk and giggle, why not arrange chairs in rows for them in a drawing-room, turn on a phonograph as an accompaniment and let them sit there and chatter!
If those behind you insist on talking it is never good policy to turn around and glare. If you are young they pay no attention, and if you are older—most young people think an angry older person the funniest sight on earth! The small boy throws a snowball at an elderly gentleman for no other reason! The only thing you can do is to say amiably: "I'm sorry, but I can't hear anything while you talk." If they still persist, you can ask an usher to call the manager.
The sentimental may as well realize that every word said above a whisper is easily heard by those sitting directly in front, and those who tell family or other private affairs might do well to remember this also.
As a matter of fact, comparatively few people are ever anything but well behaved. Those who arrive late and stand long, leisurely removing their wraps, and who insist on laughing and talking are rarely encountered; most people take their seats as quietly and quickly as they possibly can, and are quite as much interested in the play and therefore as attentive and quiet as you are. A very annoying person at the "movies" is one who reads every "caption" out loud.”
From Emily Post's 1922 book “Etiquette” 

“It ought to be superfluous to say that talking aloud, or continuous whispering during the progress of a play or opera or concert, usually on topics foreign to the occasion, is a rudeness to the performers and a bold impertinence to the rest of the audience. Some people are guilty of this insolence wittingly and unblushingly. For such we have no word of advice. Such instances should be met by something more effective than "gentle influence." But many, especially young people, talk and laugh thoughtlessly, and from mere exuberance of animal spirits. It is to be hoped that on pausing to reflect they will carefully avoid forming a habit of public misbehavior that will ultimately rank them in the social scale as confirmed vulgarians. An intelligent listener never interrupts. Between the scenes of a play, or the successive numbers of a concert programme, there are pauses long enough for a brief exchange of comment between two friends who are sharing an entertainment, and they may enjoy the pleasure of thus comparing notes without once disturbing the order of the time and place.
 From Agnes H. Morton's 1919 book “Etiquette”