Why do people get so upset when they see a Standing O?

The always Smart ‘N Snarky John Simon wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago airing his disgust about the ubiquitous standing ovation.  (If you don’t know JS, the quick intro is that he was quite a respected critic for a whole bunch of publications until he was fired from his Bloomberg post in 2010.  The whispers in Shubert Alley were that he was dismissed for being too “mean”.  That’s a subjective opinion, of course.  I always thought his reviews were fun, although I do seem to recall a write-up for Footloose where he he mocked the ensemble for being unattractive.)

In the blog, John hypothesizes that since he sees audiences stand up at almost every show they see that they are A) stupid or B) standing up to try and convince themselves the high price of the ticket was worth it.

Of course, John isn’t the first person, critic or otherwise, to complain about standing ovations at shows that aren’t “worthy”.  I’m sure you’ve been weirded-out when a show has gotten that kind of response when you felt it didn’t deserve it, right?  Kind of makes you mad?   I’ll admit that I’ve seen a couple shows (this season, in fact), that left me shaking my head as to what motivated the audience to get off their bums and on their feet.

But when I read John’s column, I started to wonder . . .

Why do we care what motivates a person to stand up?

A person that stands up at the end of a show has enjoyed their experience.  And when a person enjoys their experience, they are more likely to repeat it.  That = good.

And BTW, if you’ve stood on a stage, you know that a Standing O can mean a heck of a lot to those that devote their life to a career in the theater.

So, while you, or me, or John Simon, may not understand why some people jump to their feet at the end of a specific movie-turned-musical, we shouldn’t be POed that they did.  John says that they are “devaluing the standing ovation”.  Ok, maybe they are.  Maybe the Standing O is less rare and so it’s devalued.

But I’d argue that they are increasing the value of their own personal theatergoing experience.

And I’ll jump to my feet about that, 8 times a week.


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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.