My heart gave a little leap of joy last week when I opened my packet of 2012-13 season tickets to Stage West Community Playhouse.
Printed in bold type across every ticket were these precious words: "Late Arrivals will be seated During Intermission Only!"
At last, at long last, a theater has worked up the gumption to do what is right, I murmured approvingly. For decades, I've gritted my teeth as latecomers inched their way across my feet 15 or 20 minutes into a show, completely obscuring the actions on the stage.
Alas, my euphoria over the apparent Stage West policy was short lived. It seems that the theater's new ticket printing machine automatically put that line on the ticket, and that the theater's board had never instituted such a policy.
"We were all in kind of shock" when the line was pointed out to them, said Barbara Everest, president of the theater's board. The theater is preparing a letter to send to ticket holders telling them it was all a mistake.
That doesn't mean, however, the theater is going easy on those late arrivals, Everest said. First of all, the shows are going to start precisely on time. In the past, if the ticket takers noticed that people were still pulling into the parking lot at curtain time, the theater held the opening curtain until those people could get inside and get seated.
Nice gesture — except the clever patrons quickly caught on and made no extra effort to get there on time. "Hey, they'll hold things up for us," they seemed to think as they tore into one last barbecued rib at Sonny's.
Meanwhile, those of us who did arrive on time squirmed in our seats for five, 10, sometimes 15 minutes until the tardies could get settled.
That wasn't wasting 15 minutes; if there were 300 of us waiting for the stragglers, that was 4,500 minutes wasted (15 times 300). Not fair.
The second change Stage West is making is that late arrivals will be seated at the back of the auditorium until intermission. Even if you have purchased a front-row seat (or especially if you have a front-row seat) and you arrive five minutes into the show, you'll be seated in a back corner for the first act, Everest said. Same goes for those who leave for restroom breaks: back row until a break in the show. Hurrah!
I've been attending Stage West and Richey Suncoast Theatre shows since 1989, and I must say that their audiences have become much, much more thoughtful in regard to their arrivals and departures since then. For years, I watched dozens of people come in late and disrupt a show, then leave early — before bows and curtain calls — to dash up the aisles and head to the parking lot.
That's like the dinner guest who meanders in halfway through the salad course, fills up on the hostess's roast beef and chocolate cake, burps, shoves away from the table without so much as a "thank you, ma'am" and lumbers to his car for a quick getaway. Just plain rude.
Nowadays, this happens infrequently at the two community theaters, though I must sadly concede such tacky behavior is still rampant at other area venues that shall go unnamed ... for now.
The "Celebration of Life' for the late Charlie Skelton will be at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Richey Suncoast Theatre, where he spent a great deal of the last dozen years of his life working day and night breathing new life into what had been a foundering institution.
Charlie died of Legionnaire's disease while on vacation in Las Vegas on July 4. He had just turned 66 years old a couple of weeks earlier.
The theater is expecting a large crowd, so it has borrowed some pop-up tents to put up along the outside of the building so people can stay cool and dry as they wait to enter the theater.
There will be a table in the lobby where guests can write their names and thoughts and give condolences to Charlie's widow, Marie, who was right there with him during all the work that took place to make the theater the gorgeous place it is and has vowed to keep that work going.
There also will be a basket on that table for people to drop in their donations to the fund the theater board has started in memory of Charlie. Perhaps it will be enough to fulfill Charlie's biggest wish: to replace the chipped tile floor in the theater's lobby with a beautiful marble floor incorporating the theater's logo, similar to the one above the stage. And maybe there will be enough to start refurbishing the last big project, the backstage green room and dressing rooms.
The celebration of Charlie's life will be followed by a reception with refreshments, so that old and new friends can remember this truly wonderful man.