Theater Etitquette

I remember the first time I went to a real movie theater (instead of the drive-in). My cousins’ aunt took us on a city bus to see some Disney movie…maybe Bambi. I remember my father telling me, “No talking during the movie or they’ll throw you out on your ear.” I spent an awfully long time that afternoon wondering exactly how my poor, constantly infected ears would survive being tossed out on, and how exactly that would work. Did it mean I would land on my ear on the concrete sidewalk? But wouldn’t the rest of my head also have contact?  The upshot was I never made a sound during the movie because I didn’t want to find out the hard way.

When my son was in middle school, the teacher who oversaw the school plays said to me: “We also need to teach students how to be an audience.” At the time, I thought that was a really bizarre statement.

I’ve since learned what he meant. Movie theater theater etiquette has vanished. People talk through features, open their candy wrappers, look at their cell phones–the light from the screens are distracting–and in general have no manners or consideration for the people around them.

Several years ago, when Wicked first came through town, my daughter’s enjoyment of the show was destroyed by the girl sitting next to her singing along with the cast.

The same thing happened to me a few weeks ago. My husband and I were fortunate enough to obtain tickets to Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. This was not a movie. Not a concert. It was a theatrical performance featuring live actors on the stage. And the child next to me–the one who jumped up and down in her seat, squirmed, and kicked me–sang along with the cast. And her mother smiled down on her with indulgent maternal pride.

Hello? You are not in your living room. This wasn’t Sesame Street Live  or a Tom Chapin or Raffi or Arrogant Worms concert. A child that young who cannot sit still has no business being at a theatrical performance targeted to adults. And who told Mom it was okay to sing along with the cast of a Broadway show performance? Mother and child should have both been tossed out on their ears.

How to be an audience ought to be class taught in every elementary school.

 

Old-Fashioned Words

When my son was either in Kindergarten or first grade, his teacher told him to put on his rain coat. He asked, “Do you mean my slicker?”  His teacher explained to him that “slicker” was an old-fashioned word for rain coat.

I once referred to a meal my husband particularly likes as a “larder” meal. He said, “huh?” I said, “You know. Made from food I keep in the larder.” He had no idea what I meant. (A larder is a room or large cupboard for storing food.)

I recently used the word “wench” in my current work in progress. My critique partners suggested I change the word because it was more historical and the story I’m writing is set in the near future. But I like the word wench. And it means exactly what I wanted to convey in the passage. But my crit partners were right: the word is imprisoned by its past.

English is a marvelous language, fluid and adaptable. We add new words every year. But I sometimes wish we didn’t stop using many of the older ones.

New to America

My particular branch of the county library system “serves the city’s most ethnically and racially diverse population.” According to the website: “The library’s basement houses an English Language Literacy Lab for those interested in learning or improving their English language skills. We also have immigration, ESOL and citizenship resources in various formats for the adult learner.”

The people who work at the library are endlessly patient and helpful to everyone.

A few weeks ago, I popped in on my lunch hour to pick up a book I’d placed on hold. The man in front of me was clearly an immigrant. Once he received his brand new library card, he asked, “How much?” and pointed to a rack of DVDs.

“You can take out up to ten at a time,” the library employee said.

“No, no,” he replied. “How much? Money?”

“Oh, no money. You can borrow them for free.”

“All?”

“Yes, all. Books, movies, music…you can borrow everything for free.”

The look of utter amazement on this man’s face is something I will never forget.

And he reminded how blessed I am to live in a place where my tax dollars allow me to have the world at my fingertips through my local library.