Monday, November 27, 2006

The sound of one hand clapping

My wife and son and I went to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, starring the Rockettes, yesterday. No, not in New York City, although that would have been a lot of fun; instead we saw the production performed at the Hummingbird Centre in Toronto.

It was a great production and we all enjoyed it. I made a comment to my son about all of the gorgeous dancers, and he responded that it was a shame that we couldn't really see their faces because we were far up in the balcony. I countered with the observation that we could see their legs just fine, and that there were some mighty fine legs on display. He agreed, as any red-blooded male with 20-20 vision might have been expected to do, and we went back to happily watching these perfect physical specimens cavort on stage for our pleasure.

I do understand, though, his complaint about not being able to see the faces of the women. When I watch live performances of any sort, I usually zero in on one particular female and spend more time watching her than any other. She will not necessarily be a main character of the play or ballet or musical production, she will simply be someone who has a special dimension to her presence on stage that attracts me in some way. It may be a special beauty, a particularly expressive face, or more grace of movement than that of other performers on the stage. I will watch the other characters enough to understand what is going on in the plot of the production, but my attention will always return to the one person who has that special 'something,' whatever it might be, that attracts my attention.

Perhaps my son is like me in that respect.

I have always been a people watcher. I am fascinated by how individuals deport themselves. Some have a clear idea of where they are going, and their determination and purpose are evident in everything they do. Others bounce around, from one crisis to another, and never get the hang of how to deal with life. They never seem to develop the confidence to know that they are in charge, and that save for some truly calamitous illness or accident, they can steer and control their destinies.

Then there is the crowd dynamic. It is both fascinating and scary. When there is some sort of catalyst, a noise or some movement, for example, it appears to turn the crowd into some sort of organic whole that behaves as a unit with one brain, instead of as a number of individuals with minds of their own. It happens slowly, but once some sort of critical mass is reached, the crowd becomes a mob and then all reason disappears, all discernment and discretion is lost, and the crowd acts as a destructive force, easily manipulated by anyone with some nefarious agenda.

I'm not a psychologist. I can't explain why these things are so. Nor have I ever seen, except on television, huge crowds act with one purpose and direction. I have however, made these observations with smaller groups, and can only imagine that the larger the crowd the more absolute the abdication of reason, and the submersion of the individual will.

The production we saw was not one where there was any opportunity to observe any unusual crowd dynamic. The performances were excellent, the costumes were excellent and the staging was excellent. The audience response was tepid. Wait, I'm sorry, that is a crowd dynamic of sorts, isn't it? There was polite applause at appropriate moments throughout the performance, but it was so restrained that one might almost get the impression that one hand of each attendee was being used to cover a yawn. Can you imagine the sound of one hand clapping? That pretty much tells you what the audience response to the performance sounded like.

Are we so jaded by life that we can't enjoy things anymore? Have we seen so many productions, so many plays and ballets and musicals, that everything is ho-hum to us any more?

I love live productions. I still see them through the eyes of a child whose family couldn't afford to go to the theatre or the ballet or the opera. I get as much enjoyment out of a high school production with a ticket price of $10 as I do out of a glitzy professional production with ticket prices of ten or fifteen times that amount. I like the enthusiasm, the effort, the exuberance of it all. To me, these performances are a celebration of life. Can you put a price on the appreciation of life? Does spending a hundred dollars indicate somehow a deeper appreciation of life than a mere ten dollars? Not to me.

It is sad that some of us just don't appreciate what we have, and what we can afford.

I do. And I am willing to put up with the crowds that are inevitably part of attending any sort of live performance, just to celebrate my life and my appreciation of it.

You can clap with one hand if you want to, but I will be the one clapping with both of mine.

See you at the theatre.


  1. I am a two-hand clapper, myself. And, I always pick one out of the performers to concentrate on, as well.. the whole show is great, especially when there is unity and talent in the choreography, but I like to watch one person doing what they do, while they are doing it.

    We have free days at the music hall here, one wednesday at noon a month in the spring.. Oee and I always take advantage of the experience. And the youth orchestra is a less expensive version of the symphony - you can get closer to these concentrated little faces - it's beautiful.

  2. We drag my son to a lot of high school and university productions of various musicals. I quite enjoy them. What is lacking in production values is made up by the exuberance of the performers. Reminds me of my youth, I guess. Taking Oee and exposing her to music and other performance art will broaden her horizons, plus it is a great way to share time together with her.

  3. Live performances are great. "Live" recordings are an abomination! I utterly detest most alleged albums set in that format as they are generally overdone, but the issue of the tepid response is not something one can entirely chalk off to this phenomenon.
    Most Americans anymore refuse to recognize something as entertaining unless it is laced with generous amounts of profanity, violence, nudity or overt fornication, and though science and technology have provided many ways to capture the moment, they provide no incentive for directors and producers to clean it up.
    If I could afford the time and treasure for theatre I'd clap with both hands, myself.

  4. When I was in high school, we had a 'variety show' every year with student bands (including mine,) dancers, comedians, etc. I used to enjoy those but don't recall seeing any where I live for a long time.