Anton Chekov’s The Seagull opens with The First Goth of Theater, Masha, opining “I’m in mourning for my life.” Which is how I feel every time I look at Twitter these days.
It’s also how I feel whenever an actor’s stage entrance gets applause. I want to scream at the audience: “Why are you celebrating this person’s ability to walk through a door? Let them act a little before you put your hands together!”
Yes, I realize I’m a crank. I understand that when one of the grand Dames of theater, like Judi Dench, or Vanessa Redgrave, or Adam Driver, walks onto a stage, they deserve some respect. You’re clapping to say “holy shit, you’ve been incredible for years and now you’re doing your job in front of me, for me.” I get that, I do.
And I’m not immune to the joy of seeing one of the greats appear before me! When Mark Rylance first stepped onto the stage as Olivia in the Globe’s production of Twelfth Night, a giddy shiver ran up my spine. I lunged to my feet in applause, nearly knocking over the elderly woman next to me. So, clearly I’m okay with giving actors the clap. But let them do their job first!
I mostly hate entrance applause because it breaks the reality of the moment. How can I believe I’m watching a Danish prince deal with his dad’s untimely death if everyone claps for him? When that applause starts, I’m reminded he’s really Benedict Cumberbatch. Then I spend fifteen minutes wondering if Benny is close to his dad or not, which is Cumberbogus because I’m supposed to be getting lost in his Hamlet.
Suddenly something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and that’s my enjoyment of this play. All because the people around me couldn’t keep their “actor entrance applause” to themselves.
Imagine if we applauded every time someone appeared to do their job. We’d be clapping constantly. The waiter approaches your table, you cheer. A cop pulls you over, you give them a hearty round of applause. Your therapist opens their office door, you clap for five minutes before going inside. Life would be chaos.
Or would it? I mean, it feels good to be appreciated, so why are actors the only ones who get Standing O’s? What if we weren’t so stingy with our appreciation?
I can see it now. I go into my doctor’s office for my annual physical, he checks all my bobs and bits, maybe he lectures me about my weight, and then I give him a round of applause because, yes, he’s right, I do need to spend more time at the gym.
And doesn’t your divorce lawyer deserve a standing O after she navigates an amicable separation between you and the spouse you can’t even look at anymore? Get out of that chair and cheer for her!
I’ve definitely been on a few hairy flights where all the passengers clapped upon landing. But why do we only clap when we realize how close we were to death? Aren’t we close to death every time we fly? Each pilot who successfully keeps death at bay should be literally applauded. We have no reason to be stingy with our gratitude.
So next time you notice someone do a great job, give them a hearty Gleek-approved standing O. As long as you give it at the end of a job well done instead of before the job gets started. Because as much as I love Patti LuPone, she can wait for my adoration until after she belts out “Ladies Who Lunch,” thank you very much.