Shocked and AppalledLast year Scott and I attended a performance of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Hilton Theatre right here on Broadway. Even more appalling than the show onstage (It was pretty bad) was the show in the row in front of us. An entire family eating cake, complete with plastic plates and forks, during the show. "Rubes!" thought I, "obviously not a family of seasoned theatre-goers otherwise they would surely know that eating during a performance in a legitimate theatre is simply NOT done." Or, perhaps they knew better than I that their behavior is now considered perfectly acceptable by the management of most Broadway theatres these days. Yes, it's true.
The Times reported this unfortunate news in an article on January 5th.
While eating at your seat at a Broadway theater used to be universally forbidden, theaters are increasingly allowing patrons to take their drinks, candy and even crunchy munchies to their seats during a show. This let-them-eat-snacks philosophy has been embraced at the Helen Hayes, Hilton, New Amsterdam, Eugene O’Neill and Walter Kerr Theaters, as well as at all nine houses owned by the Nederlander Organization (the Brooks Atkinson, Gershwin, Lunt-Fontanne, Marquis, Minskoff, Nederlander, Neil Simon, Palace and Richard Rodgers).Vice President of the Nederlander Organization, Jim Boese, claims "This is part of a broader attempt to enhance the audience experience." Although exactly which audience members experience will be enhanced by this move remains to be seen. Clearly priority is being placed on those theatre goers who are willing to increase the theatre owner's profits by paying $12 for a Diet Coke in a commemorative spillproof plastic cup. Might I also point out that one gets to pay upwards of 100 bucks a ticket to sit next to one of these pop-corn munching, gum cracking, soda slurping slobs at the theatre these days.
Not surprisingly, the least consideration of all is given to the live actors on stage who have to perform while seeing, hearing and smelling all manner of food stuffs being consumed by audience members who can scarcely fit in the antiquated seating at most Broadway theatres in the first place. As it is, God forbid someone in the audience has to get up to go to the bathroom during a performance, the entire row of patrons has to be disturbed because of the lack of leg room at these theatres. Imagine someone making multiple trips to the "snack bar" (heaven help us) or, God forbid, the COCKTAIL bar since most Broadway theatres already serve alcoholic beverages. When cocktails were only sold before the show and at intermission one could count on minimal instances of drunkenness in the audience. Now, what is to stop a patron from consuming 4 or 5 martinis then hauling off and hurling a corn dog at the head of some actor onstage whose performance displeases him? And where is Actors Equity in all of this anyway? Hopefully some protection will be enacted to prevent actors from having to dress up as dancing buckets of pop-corn and candy bars between acts in an effort to promote consession sales.
I was glad to see that I am not the only New Yorker who is shocked and appalled by this new "Let-em-eat-snacks" mentality. John Heilpern of the New York Obsever wrote a wonderful commentary on the subject as well. In it, among other things, he says:
(Theatre is) our refuge and respite from the clamor of the world, and the unholy place where we might better understand and enjoy the world. It's our sanctuary and home where eternal stories are told, words are heard, and music and poetry are cherished in the two-hour traffic of the stage. But our faith in theater is a secular religion, and Broadway has always been a rough-and-tumble hybrid of art and commerce.Rough-and-tumble indeed. And such is the state of modern theatre.