Last month, my wife and I attended John Lithgow’s one-man show, “Stories by Heart” at the DeJong Concert Hall in the HFAC. It was a profoundly moving experience, an incredible testament to the power of theatre to unite the audience with the performer in a way no other medium can. Mr. Lithgow spoke for more than two hours in a show he conceived, designed and wrote himself, with every line impeccably memorized and delivered. He performed with inimitable passion, his love — for stories, for theatre, for art — evident in every word.
The personal nature of the performance, combined with the considerable price of tickets ($35 each for mid-range student tickets) created a stark contrast with how many of the attendees treated the show. The number of audience members in jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts and sports jerseys was surprising and — frankly — embarrassing. Dozens of people came in several minutes late, (an act forbidden by ushers at major theatres) with some latecomers even pushing their way in to center seats (forcing everyone in the row to stand as they passed) long after Mr. Lithgow had begun his performance.
My wife and I went to the performance as a once-a-semester major splurge. Seventy dollars for a date is not something we’re accustomed to, but high praise from critics and recommendations from friends made us willing to shell out the steep ticket price. That morning, I realized that I don’t own any nice dress pants (other than my one church suit), so I bought a pair of tan slacks from the Bookstore for $18 on clearance. I wore a clean button-down shirt and my nicest shoes. It was to be a classy evening at the theatre, and I expected the rest of the audience would consider it the same. We arrived with time to spare; but the dog-knot of a parking situation necessitated some panicked sprinting from the car to the door, and we slipped into our seats only two minutes before curtain.
My point in detailing my experience is not to present myself as the model theatre-goer. It’s merely to show that respectful attendance is not a matter of affluence, it’s a matter of attitude. We made a point to wear appropriate (but affordable) attire for the show and to run to make it on time because how we receive such a distinguished performer mattered to my wife and me. Many in the audience seemed to treat it like they were just plopping down to watch a movie on their couch. Mr. Lithgow left us blown away by how much effort and devotion he put into the performance, but we were ashamed at how little the audience gave back while attending it.