Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Boston Audiences and Pod People

What is it with people?

Boston is a world-class city with a world-class Arts scene (I still have to write about my experiences at the biennial Boston Early Music Festival, one of the crowning Gems in Boston cultural life, suffice it to say that this year's Festival was a triumph).

But one problem I really cannot understand is how bad the Boston audiences are. I wonder if they're this bad elsewhere. Why is it that people are willing to pay, say, $125 for a seat, and then waste their money by talking through the performance? We've experienced this now at several venues:

  • The Huntington Theatre for a delightful performance of The Rivals. Here, a retirement-age woman was not only chatting with her companion but unwrapping an endless series of Wurther's Originals wrappers (what's wrong with people?);
  • At Boston Ballet — not only for The Nutcracker, since that's kind of par for the course (everybody in Boston goes to the Nutcracker, not just music officionados) — but even for Swan Lake, where one mother felt entitled to describe every moment in the Ballet to her young daughter;
  • Almost every Symphony Hall or Jordan Hall concert of Handel and Haydn or Boston Baroque or the Boston Early Music Festival or whatever we go to.
  • Several plays at the ART (American Repertory Theatre), including Marlowe's Dido and Aeneas where there was a couple in front of us and a couple behind us both having their little chats.
  • At the sublime Boris Goudenouw, one person was thumbing through his program nonstop while another person was loudly eating a bag of popcorn. Where did he even get the popcorn? (At Thésée in 2005, an old man behind us actually grabbed our heads when we were leaning towards one another [not talking] and shoved us apart so he could get a better look at the stage: of course that's incomprehensible rudeness of a completely different sort, so perhaps I shouldn't list it here.)

It really is amazing. How can people blithely ruin the experience of the performance for everyone around them? And do they have so much money to throw around that they are happy to throw it away by ignoring the performance they paid for? Often I have noticed that it's the most wealthy-looking people; often it's some of the more elderly people who really should know better. But it can be anybody. The young, the old, the in-between. What goes through people's heads? Are they autistic? No, I wouldn't want to malign autistic people by tarring them with this brush.

To our abiding horror it turned out that a good friend of ours — who will have to remain nameless for obvious reasons — who home-schools her children, took the opposite position in a phone conversation today. She explained that sometimes you just have to explain things to your children or they won't be able to follow what's going on and learn. She said that "some people don't seem to be able to drown it out." Hello?! My response of course is that having a child doesn't entitle you to be rude. Oddly enough, this friend used to be a normal person.

There is something about having kids that sometimes turns you into what we like to call a "pod person" (you should know the reference: if not from the original movie then from the wonderful original-cast Saturday Night Live skit where all the former hippies were turning into Republicans and were carrying pods with "REAGAN"on them).

All of a sudden you think the world should revolve around you and your needs. After all, having children is hard work. It's hard to juggle schedules and find time and make ends meet. So you are entitled to just take what you want. The ballet is valuable education time for your kid? That's ok: everyone else should just drown you out and let you turn it into a private lesson.

Don't want to park down the block? That's ok. You can just park in someone else's driveway and then disappear into the crowd in the schoolyard to chat with your friends. It's ok: if the homeowner comes home and needs to get into their own driveway, they can circle around the block a few times until you're ready to come back to your car from chatting with people in the School. Or if they have a medical emergency and have to get to the hospital, that's ok, they won't mind waiting for you.

Your stroller is blocking the aisle in the grocery store? That's ok. You're a mom. You're under stress. Besides, your therapist told you that you need to de-stress yourself. You won't even make eye-contact with the person who's trying to politely ask you if they can squeeze by. After all, you have children, so your needs always come first.

DEEP breath. So, what is it? There are jerks everywhere. Marcus Aurelius warned us that every day we will meet an inconsiderate person so there's no point in getting worked up about it. But honestly. Is it this bad everywhere? Do people going to Broadway Shows really throw their money away on conversations they could have anywhere? Is Boston worse?

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