Monday, October 29, 2012

Pre-concert palaver: Get the hook

One of the most invigorating experiences you can have in a theater or concert hall doesn't cost a cent to produce. But Charlotte's performing groups obviously don't think they can afford it. 

Put yourself into this scene: 

The audience is gathering in the Knight Theater for N.C. Dance Theatre's first performance of the season. The house lights go down. A hush falls over the audience. The anticipation builds. Then the rousing introduction of Johann Strauss' "Radetzky March" rings out. The curtain rises on a line of dancers, who snap into action for the Viennese revelries of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux's "Blue Danube." The season is off to an exuberant start. 

In reality, it didn't play out quite that way. Another step intruded. It came right after the auditorium's lights went down -- the moment I'm talking about, when the audience is on the brink of seeing what what it came for, and anything is possible. Instead, as at most everything I cover, the performance had to wait: 

Someone came onstage to talk. 

NCDT was just the most recent example. Curtain speeches, which used to be reserved for festive occasions or crises, have become a captive-audience ritual. 

Once in a great while, the chitchat aims at helping the audience grasp and enjoy what's in store -- such as when Christopher Warren-Green clued in the Charlotte Symphony's audience on the Beethoven program he put together for this fall's Classics opener. (Among other things, he picked three works that had their world premieres in the same long-ago concert.) That isn't usually what happens, though. 

More often, there are plugs for upcoming performances; acknowledgments of sponsors; salutes to the greatness of Charlotte and its cultural scene; tributes to the Arts & Science Council; assurances of how wonderful the performance will be. Logistical housekeeping sometimes comes in, too. With NCDT, there's an announcement of where the company's booster groups will have their after-performance get-togethers -- even though most of the audience isn't on the guest list. (Isn't there some way to inform the Opening Night Insiders about their shindig without reminding everyone else that they're Opening Night Outsiders?)

The talking spoils one of the distinctive thrills of a night in the theater -- one that you can't get from putting a CD or DVD into a machine in your living room. When the curtain finally rises, instead of being a "Here we go!" moment, it's reduced to: "Finally!" 

This also turns into plain old bad manners: treating guests like hostages. Sometimes, the pre-concert palaver doesn't even start until a few minutes after the theoretical starting time. The actual performance may not begin until five or 10 minutes past what's printed on everyone's tickets. So much for Southern hospitality. 

Nevertheless, audiences sit through it all quietly, and they applaud when the speaker instructs them to -- after lists of sponsors, for instance. I don't know whether that attests to Charlotteans' patience or their obedience. Maybe both. But there's one thing to be thankful for: At least the speeches don't get standing ovations. 


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