"What should we wear?" my friend Nancy Craig asked our teacher while discussing our coming trip to see the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at Ford Auditorium. Like many of us in our blue-collar neighborhood, we had never been to a theater other than the Great Lakes Movie Theatre on the corner. Moreover, our wardrobes always reflected the current state of the automotive industry.
"Wherever we go in life," Mrs. Redmond said, smiling, "all we have to remember is to wear our best manners."
Our class ventured far from our neighborhood, becoming teachers, firefighters, doctors, businessmen and even a principal violist in a major Midwestern symphony orchestra, but we all learned about good manners.
On opening night at the San Diego Opera's "Marriage of Figaro," I watched as the audience began to exit the Civic Theatre before the first performer had taken his bow. "Whew, that was a long opera," a lady near me commented as she stepped over my feet while hurrying toward the exit as the curtain fell. Even more reason to applaud the performers for their excellence, I thought. The seats nearest the stage, most visible to the artists themselves, were nearly one-third vacant by the second curtain call.
The following night, I witnessed an equally embarrassing sight as the audience at Mandeville Center began to vacate the auditorium before the Juilliard String Quartet emerged for their acknowledgment. This audience, composed of a large number of UC San Diego faculty members and their families, apparently was not uncomfortable leaving without applauding this famed quartet.
This scene of the hurried exit is repeated more often every season. Audiences are leaving as the San Diego Symphony plays its final note or as an actor at the Old Globe Theatre utters his last line.
There is always the unexpected emergency that may arise and prompt one to leave a performance quickly. And patrons should be allowed to decide for themselves whether a performance warrants one, two or 20 curtain calls. However, a quick clap on the way to the door must be a great disappointment for a performer.
I have been fortunate in recent years to be able to return to Michigan and spend time at Interlochen--the National Music Camp. I love to watch the expressions of performers such as Nathaniel Rosen and Ella Fitzgerald as the audience applauds them with great enthusiasm at the conclusion of their programs. In the crowd, they see the faces of young people who recognize the dedication, hours of practice and sacrifices one makes to attain a career of magnitude. These young musicians, actors, dancers and artists are equally responsive to their fellow campers night after night as they attend student programs.
Is there a new mode of conduct evolving in our town? Is there a major problem with parking at the Civic Center and with leaving after a concert? Should UCSD examine the traffic flow after programs at Mandeville? Are we, as one person observed, "a television-video-oriented society" that fails to note the importance of thanking a performer?
Two weeks ago, our 5-year-old had a Suzuki recital at San Diego State University. As is often the case, the less experienced students play first, followed by the more advanced ones. The audience was urged to remain until the final student had played (a period of less than one hour). However, some families left immediately after their child's performance. "Oh," commented our Elizabeth as she applauded the last student's performance and gazed at the diminished audience, "if I'm ever good enough to play last, I hope someone will stay and clap for me."