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Manners, people! How rudeness ruins entertainment

Just bring up the topic of rude people at a concert or play or movie and everybody has a story about a boor who ruined a big night or the noob who seemed oblivious to performance etiquette.

Seriously, we're surrounded by lunkheads. Is it worse than ever? Maybe.

"I don't think a day goes by it doesn't come up" in staff discussions, said Ruth Eckerd Hall marketing director Eric Blankenship.

But some of that is because different artists have different views of audience behavior, Blankenship said. Roberta Flack stopped her show cold recently at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg to berate an audience member for filming her with an iPhone. But then you have bands like Wilco, coming to the Straz Center in Tampa on May 14, that encourage fans to film and submit footage that will be projected behind the band on stage.

Some blame ticket prices. When you are paying $100 to attend a show, you will not be told to pipe down when you are having a good time.

Some blame the self-centered social media culture that makes people shameless about arriving late to plays or drunkenly interrupting artists because they are, after all, the center of the universe and they need to comment, document and tweet their life at all times.

Whatever the reasons, it's time for etiquette lessons from the experts fully embedded in entertainment venues and restaurants around the bay area: our critics.

Sharon Kennedy Wynne, Times staff writer

MOVIES: Not your couch

MOVIE THEATER auditoriums are big places. Spacious, with high ceilings, a set of stairs and redundant furnishings. Mostly bolted-down chairs, the likes of which Rooms to Go won't sell.

There is absolutely no way that anyone should confuse a movie theater with his living room.

Yet rude people constantly do, eating loudly and talking louder, and propping smelly feet on the back of your chair like it's a coffee table and your nose is a coaster. They take phone calls and send text messages, guess out loud whodunnit or why, and exclaim: "Whoa, I used to live there" or "Hey, I drove a car like that."

Nineteen years in this gig and audience manners keep getting worse. Some advice:

Turn off your cellphone. Not muted or vibrate only but off, using that "airplane mode" setting that doesn't allow ringtones or alerts until it's turned back on. If you're so important that you can't last two hours without communication, you probably shouldn't be spending valuable time at a movie.

Teach your children well. I'm stunned by how many parents won't do anything to keep kids quiet or in their seats. And any parent taking children to an R-rated movie filled with graphic violence, sex or profanity should be charged with child abuse.

Hurry up and eat already. Candy wrappers are noisy enough without d-r-a-g-g-i-n-g out their opening, as if tearing slowly is somehow quieter. When your soft drink straw pulls only air from the cup, it's time to stop sucking. And whose idea was it to put crunchy tortilla chips covered with tongue-singeing cheese in a crinkling tray anyway?

Steve Persall, Times movie critic

RESTAURANTS: Tech no's

IT USED TO BE SO SIMPLE. Napkin on your lap, chew with your mouth closed, work from the outside silverware inward. But then technology came along and added a whole new pile of restaurant etiquette do's and don'ts.

What about tweeting, texting, surfing or otherwise noodling with the smartphone? Thumbs down, and that goes double for tableside callers, who always seem to employ the piercing volume Mr. Bell must have used for that first "Mr. Watson. Where are you? I need you." Take it outside. (And Bluetoothers who keep their device ear-wedged lose extra points for the Clueless Cyborg look.)

More techno faux pas:

Food bloggers, if you've got to go all Annie Leibovitz on your pork chop, do it quickly. Chefs intend hot food to be hot and cold food to be cold. Respect their work enough to keep your documentation to a minimum.

The Web is a many-splendored thing. It means we can now make reservations with the stroke of a few keys. If you choose not to honor those reservations, get on the horn and call the restaurant. No-shows gum up the works. Conversely, restaurants, keep your websites (including prices) up to date, and lose the goofy sound tracks. Most of us are surfing your site from work, and the kicky organ rendition of The Girl from Ipanema is a dead giveaway to our bosses.

Dostoevsky never would have predicted this new phase of crime and punishment. If you have a bad meal, it's your prerogative to share that information with the cyberworld on Yelp, Chowhound, etc. But it's just plain bad form to flame a restaurant with hyperbole like "the worst meal I ever ate" unless you really have considered it against the hundreds of meals you've eaten elsewhere. And restaurants, we can tell when you've written your own reviews.

Laura Reiley, Times food critic

CONCERTS: It's not 'Idol'

AS TICKET PRICES have escalated, I've sensed a boorish, booming "sense of entitlement" from certain blowhards at big area concerts. There exists the prevailing feeling of: Hey, I paid $100 for this show! If Paul Simon is singing a quiet, acoustic version of Sounds of Silence, then by gosh, I'M SINGING THE DANG THING WITH HIM!

A little advice, my off-key friend? Unless you're last name is Garfunkel, shut your yap and pick your sing-along spots better. All the folks around you paid a ton for their tickets, too.

A few other concert gripes:

Don't try to steal the show. At a recent Civil Wars show, the Southern Gothic indie duo made a throwaway joke about people requesting Lynyrd Skynyrd at their gigs. Immediately, someone shouted for "Freebird!" Okay, it got a few laughs. What DIDN'T get a single chuckle was the dude who, 20 minutes later, yawped, "Play some Skynyrd!" during a particularly lovely part of a stellar show. Dear Don Rickles: Work on your timing.

I don't care if you smoke. What I do care about is when you light up at a packed outdoor concert, the throngs are smooshed together and you're waving your Marly Light 5 inches from my eyeballs. Let's cut to the chase and have you ash in my mouth and snub the cig in my ear, okay?

Get your own spot. My music-lovin' colleague Jay Cridlin at sister paper tbt* is a mellow, good-natured dude. But when I asked him for a gripe, it took him approximately 3.3 seconds to fire off: "Well, I'm tall, so I hate it when people (always shorter women) assume it's cool if they ask if they can stand in front of me so they can see the stage better. Also, I've seen two women almost come to blows because one was carrying a gigantic handbag in the middle of the crowd. It kept hitting everyone nearby."

Sean Daly, Times pop music critic

ART FESTS: They can hear you

RUDENESS in an art museum is rare. Maybe it's the hushed atmosphere, but more likely it's the watchful guards that discourage inappropriate behavior. Big art festivals? That's another story.

Artists aren't deaf; be tactful when you visit their booths. I have heard many people making loud critical comments within easy earshot of the artist. Mostly artists ignore them. But one artist (who shall be nameless) had had a long, hot day, no sales and his share of snarky tire-kickers. Late in the afternoon, a woman stopped by and stood for a long time studying his paintings. He was moved and asked her if she wanted to know anything about the pieces. She said she just didn't understand why any of it could be considered art. And then she uttered those deadly words: "My granddaughter could do this." The artist snapped and replied, in a voice heard down the row of booths, "Oh, yeah? Well I painted them with my (male anatomical part). Could your granddaughter do that?" She retreated quickly.

I'm not saying his response was appropriate. And don't feel you can't offer an opinion. But please be nice.

Don't treat their work as if it's in the last-chance sales area at Smart & Final. You wouldn't dream of manhandling something in an expensive department store. Sure, it's tempting to touch something pretty, but ask permission first. And if you have just eaten something greasy, maybe rub your hands with sanitizer so you don't risk staining the art.

Bargain with gentleness. Artists want to sell their work. They try to set their prices based on the time they spend creating the art, what people have paid for it in the past, and what the market seems able to bear. No one who exhibits at an outdoor festival gets rich at them. Artists can actually lose money when factoring in the cost to rent space and travel expenses. So what they're asking for their work is generally fair and reasonable.

Lennie Bennett, Times art critic

BOOK SIGNINGS: Do your homework

READING A BOOK is usually a private activity, so etiquette isn't much of an issue.

But readers and writers sometimes meet in the flesh at book signings and other author appearances. On a couple of occasions I've winced when someone effusively praised an author's work — but not the author they were talking to. So be sure you know your Dan Chaon from your Michael Chabon, your Suzanne Collins from your Jackie Collins. Here are a few more bibliophile-specific tips.

Do not hog the author's time. It can be exciting to meet a writer whose work you love, but remember you're not the only one who feels that way. Take advantage of your wait in line to choose a few words of appreciation rather than disgorging your minireviews of every one of the author's books, to the disgust of the dozens or hundreds of fans behind you.

Buy the author's newest book to be signed; that's what she is on the road to promote. In most cases, it's okay to bring a couple of her books that you already own along, too. But don't bring a tote bag filled with 20 paperbacks, to be personalized for each of your nieces and nephews (or sold on eBay). Why? See above.

Do not tell the author, "I've got a great idea for your next book!" In the first place, writers have their own ideas. In the second place, they've been sternly warned by their publishers, and their publishers' attorneys, never to listen to suggestions for books, because that invites lawsuits. So don't be surprised if your idea is met by an author sticking his fingers in his ears and loudly singing "La la la" until you back off.

Colette Bancroft, Times book editor

PERFORMANCES: Clap or not?

I WAS AMAZED last month when a woman sitting in the row behind me brought an infant with her to Memphis, the rhythm and blues musical. Couldn't have been more than a few months old. It wasn't long before the baby cried, and the woman had to make an exit, but not before disturbing everyone. Well, what did she think would happen?

And then there was the fight that broke out during The Nutcracker. You can't make this stuff up, folks.

Both of these episodes took place at Ruth Eckerd Hall, but it certainly doesn't have a monopoly on audience misbehavior. If people clap between each movement of an orchestra piece, you're probably at Mahaffey Theater. And when the ushers allow late arrivals to clamber along an occupied row when the orchestra is softly playing an adagio, it's often at the Straz Center. A few of my peeves/tips:

Silence is golden — especially at the end of an orchestra piece. Let the music resonate for a while. Don't break into applause the instant the last note is played.

And what about when to applaud at classical concerts? Really, clap whenever the spirit moves you — who can resist after a slam-bam performance of the first movement of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto? — but in general, hold your applause until the end. Clapping between movements can be annoying to some listeners, who like to take in the whole work.

Opera is different. Want to cheer a passionate aria? No problem. In the old days, singers would sometimes stop the show to repeat a particularly well-received number. Now what we really need around here are some boos — part of the of the fun of any self-respecting opera scene.

John Fleming, Times performing arts critic.

WHAT CONSUMERS CAN DO

The people who run the concert halls and theaters say you shouldn't suffer in silence. If someone is disturbing the show, tell an usher and let him deal with it. That beats calling the theater the next day to rant about the vulgarian. "We always tell our patrons, let us know as soon as possible then so we can do our best to fix the situation," said Eric Blankenship, marketing director of Ruth Eckerd Hall. "After the fact it's very difficult for us to make that night better for you."

SUGGESTED ETIQUETTE FOR ANY SHOW

Writer Patricia Rossi, a Tampa Bay resident and author of Everyday Etiquette, offers these universal rules to live by:

• Arrive early, at least 15 minutes before show time.

• Face the people, not the stage, when moving down the row to your seat. "And as you pass them," she says, "look them in the eye and say hello." If you are the one seated, stand up if people can't get by you.

• Don't talk, text or sing along during performances (unless encouraged to by the artists).

• Get rid of that candy or gum before a performance starts.

• Do not take photographs or record during shows that prohibit it.

• Stay through the curtain calls.

Manners, people! How rudeness ruins entertainment 02/29/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 29, 2012 9:38am]

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