Read about NYC's best theatre and dance productions and watch video interviews with innovative artists
To clap, or not to clap -- for me there's no question
I have some hard and fast rules when I go to the theatre: no talking, no texting, no picture taking, no charging my phone onstage. I think most theatre fans (the polite ones, anyway) agree with those. But I have a rule for myself that many don't follow: I don't give entrance applause.
I know, I know, entrance applause is a longstanding tradition in the theatre, an enthusiastic way of welcoming a star. I would certainly never shush anyone who does it. However, if I can gently convince some folks to stop by sharing my take on why I don't like it, well, I'll give myself a silent cheer.
Like most people, I don't get entrance applause for showing up to work, so why should actors? I clap for a job well done and, at the start of the show, nobody has done anything yet. I do understand that elation one feels when a favorite performer walks on to the stage. For some, I guess, that love needs to be expressed audibly. Though my adoration for certain actors is certainly reflected on my face and in my writing, I keep my admiration quiet. I'm sure my smile (and heart) grew three sizes when Gavin Creel popped out of a crate for his entrance in Hello, Dolly!.
Another reason I wait until the end of a show to cheer is that I want to hear every second of dialogue and music. The noise of clapping isn't as annoying as, say, someone unwrapping one of those ubiquitous hard candies, but it's still disruptive and breaks the mood. I've definitely missed lines because of entrance applause. When I saw If/Then, the clapping for Idina Menzel was so loud and went on for so long that she had trouble getting her first line out. Someone even yelled, "I love you, Idina!" and that really took me out of the moment. While there's something to be said for a show feeling as exciting as a rock concert (I'm looking at you, Billie Joe Armstrong in American Idiot), there's still a story to follow and a fourth wall not to break (unless that's part of the script, of course).
But the worst is uncertain entrance applause, when viewers aren't sure if a performer is famous enough to warrant it. There will either be isolated pockets of clapping around the theatre, or a delayed reaction long after the actor has started speaking. And, once in a while, it's mistaken identity applause. When I saw The Front Page, Jefferson Mays received it – twice! -- because the audience mistook him for Nathan Lane, who didn't show up until the very end of Act II. Mays deserves plenty of adulation in my book, but still, that was super awkward.
When it comes to the end of a show I enjoyed (or even a particularly rousing musical number), I no longer sit silently. If I truly loved it, I'll throw my hands in the air and clap loudly and enthusiastically. I'll even give a standing ovation -- if I feel it's really earned. But that's a discussion for another time.
Do you applaud when a star enters? Let us know in the comments.