"The Standing O"
by Tony Brown

Tony Brown lives in Cleveland, where he is the theater critic for The Plain Dealer, the daily paper in Cleveland, Ohio. This article was written when Tony was theater critic for The Observer.












































For more about Tony Brown, please visit his pages on The Plain Dealer..

originally published in The Charlotte Observer, 1996

EDITOR'S NOTE: Just before the men in white coats dragged him away, Tony Brown was babbling about an encounter at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center with the ghost of a dead monarch. We are printing his delusional scribblings as a public service. This is where a dissolute life of criticism will lead.

Q. Cool threads. Who're you?

A. George Augustus of Hanover, king of Great Britain from 1727 until 1760, and the inventor of the standing ovation. George II to you.

Q. What are you doing at a performance of ``Romeo and Juliet''?

A. Well, I'm a bit concerned about ``ovation inflation.''

Q. What's that?

A. Look around you at all these good people staggering to full height and applauding. You know yourself that this enterprise, while promising, was mediocre. Today, everything receives a ``standing O.'' Deplorable.

Q. Are you saying this is a Charlotte-only thing?

A. Far from it, lad. The standing ovation is now standard at the conclusion of big musicals on your Broadway stages. And, I am sad to say, we are beginning to see them more often in dear old London, too.

Q. You're seeing them. I thought you were dead.

A. We on our side see all. It does appear that Charlotte audiences have put their own imprimatur on the standing ovation. Your crowds rise for anything, but they also tend to not applaud very enthusiastically or for very long.

Q. Hm. Any conclusions, kingy?

A. Perhaps you Southerners applaud in the same way you beckon new acquaintances to - how do you say it? - ``Y'all come see us.'' You don't really mean it.

Q. So what's wrong with praising a performance that might not deserve it? In the case of ``Romeo,'' some very dedicated artists put a lot of effort into the project.

A. If you give everything a standing ovation, then the standing ovation becomes meaningless. It is similar to what you call ``grade inflation.'' Tutors give students good marks for attending class. They're afraid to offend their students with a B. Audiences are afraid they'll insult performers with hearty sit-down applause.

Q. What merits a standing O?

A. The standing ovation should be a purely emotional response, and not a calculated one. You should not stand at attention just because everyone else is, or because you think it is expected of you. You should simply find yourself on your feet without remembering how you got there.

That is what happened when I founded the standing ovation. I was so moved upon hearing the ``Hallelujah Chorus'' in Mr. Handel's ``Messiah'' that I positively levitated to my feet. The rest of the audience followed my lead. Actually, they had to. You cannot sit in the presence of an erect monarch.

Q. OK, Mr. Expert. Any idea how the standing ovation arrived at its present state?

A. Ignoring your attempt at levity, I set forth the following theories:

Ovation inflation follows ticket-price inflation. The cost of admission today is outrageous: $75 for a Broadway show, $50 for ``Romeo and Juliet.'' Audiences naturally want to believe they have received what they paid for. So they deceive themselves with the standing O.

Your loud rock concerts and sporting events have exerted an influence. People at rock concerts stand all the time. You are supposed to rise even for the introduction of your team at a ball game. Perhaps audiences at symphony concerts, dressed in tuxes and furs, should hold their lighters aloft at the end of Mr. Handel's ``Water Music,'' chanting: ``We are the champions/ of the world!''

Contemporary audiences are not, in fact, giving standing ovations. They are merely trying to arrive at their automated conveyances more quickly. If you can walk and applaud simultaneously, the more speedily you will exit the parking deck, one of the worst inventions of the modern era.

Q. Thanks for the insights, man, but the standing O isn't everywhere. I've never gotten one.

A. You sir, are a critic. A good chorus of boos and a couple of nasty letters to the editor are all the recognition you deserve.

~ Tony Brown

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