In the past couple of seasons it seems to me that audience behavior at the ballet and the opera has really become increasingly annoying. Last night the man behind me was clearly very ill; his coughing was so frequent and seemingly un-stifled. Anyone can experience a momentary tickle in the throat, but this person must surely have known before taking his seat that he was going to be coughing constantly. Thus it was not only the noise but also the thoughtless spreading of germs that posed a problem. I have stayed home from events when I have a cough; it's the right thing to do.
Of course cellphones are the major bane of enjoying performances these days. The polite announcements requesting phones be turned off don't seem to be making an impact.
Talking to one's neighbor, even in whispers, is very distracting. Candy wrappers can break the spell of the music in an instant...and the instant is invariably prolonged into agony. Then there are:
the taking of photographs
the eating or drinking of smuggled-in goodies
humming or beating time to the music
flipping thru the Playbill
rummaging thru your purse
wearing too much perfume or cologne
Although these transgressions are maddening in any theatrical setting (even the cinema) it is perhaps the ballet that suffers most as it is such a 'silent' art form. So I was thinking it might be a good idea for Kristin Sloan, NYC Ballet's Director of New Media, to create a very short 'ballet etiquette' film to be shown at the start of every performance. The dancers could be involved and it could be lightly humourous in tone though basically serious in its message.
A few years ago one of the big cinema chains had a contest to see who could develop the best minute-long "movie manners' film clip. Over the weeks leading up to the awarding of the winner's trophy, several of the best entries were shown just before the previews commenced. They were genuinely amusing and did actually seem to have some impact; perhaps when people saw how silly and self-centered they appeared it made them think...just a little.
My favorite moment in these films by far was the shot of a soprano in the helmet and breast-plates of Brunnhilde, singing away grandly to her father Wotan when a cellphone goes off. The culprit answers, and at that moment Brunnhilde hurls her spear into the House, shattering the annoying device. The audience erupts in a wild ovation.