I might sit this one out...

Have you noticed?

Nowadays, just about any performance. of any kind, by anyone, ends with a standing ovation.

I'm old enough to remember a time (and actually I hope I'm young enough to remember this correctly) when a standing ovation was something the audience gave up for an extraordinary performance, a tour de force, something truly deserving of a Brava! a Bravo!

Not so now. Today's audiences jump to their feet for just about anything that appears on stage -- and they do so as soon as the curtain falls! Please: if you're going to give a standing O, have the decency to invest in a healthy prolonged applause before adding this exclamation point in recognition of the talent before you. Rising to your feet should tell everyone, "I can't applaud loud enough! What shall I do? Ah - I'll stand!"

A difficulty tangent to this proliferation of praise is that those who choose not to rise might appear to be disappointed in or critical of the play or concert just seen or heard - but that is not necessarily so. I have never booed a performance and I am more than willing to give at least polite applause for any effort a cast or symphony has mounted for my entertainment.

But a standing ovation? Sorry, but that's for very special moments only.

Herewith I am deciding to never again gesture by posture an acclamation that is not also rising in my heart for the arts and my critic's mind. To stand without intending the praise thus proffered is to tell a lie and that does a disservice to the performers and my own integrity.

So, if you're sitting next to me in a theater or concert hall and see me sit out the curtain calls and bows, don't think less of me or presume that I think negatively of the performance. I'm only telling the truth. And when I judge a performance deserving of a standing O, you'll know - because I'll give it on the tips of my toes.



  1. Hooray!! Someone has put into words what I have been thinking about for years!!!! I recently went to 2 different musicals in Boston; one was superb, and the other was wonderful and entertaining but NOT superb. Yet at the end of both, before an actor was even in evidence for a final bow, the audience was on it's feet applauding wildly....peculiar I thought...but I stood so as not to be embarassed in the company I was with...next time I will speak honestly with my feet!

  2. I'm in agreement with this as well. My husband and I were recently talking about "audience etiquette" after viewing an entertaining but not great performance. The other thing that bothers us (besides the standing O for just about any performance) is that at a musical with an overture...people talk through the overture!! Very annoying!

  3. How about audience members and/or ushers that go in and out during performances? I like that about as much as I like children parading to the restroom during Mass! Now there's a lapse in etiquette for you!

  4. If someone feels that they want to honor perfomers by standing at the end of a performance...what's wrong with that? No one is required to stand up if they don't want to. I think that standing up to applaud means different things to different people.

  5. Fr. Fleming - Great post. I agree with your observation and I sense it is part of a larger phenomenon.

    I am afraid that, in giving praise too easily, we often imbue with greatness that which is mediocre -- in our minds anyway. The byproduct is to make that which is truly great almost unrecognizable...

    This has theological implications!

    For if everything gets our thanks and praise -- if we, in effect, get into the habit of honoring and revering the day-to-day -- then what do we hold back for worship of the truly great in the eternal sense? I.e., what reverence do we offer to the divine that we have not already offered for a third-rate, third-grade piano recital? (for example)

    This whole state of mind, I would assert, tends to blunt our ability to truly praise God. If we are always giving "standing O's", then what will we have left when Christ returns and by all rights we ought to be flat on our faces on the ground, filled with awe and wonder and gratitude for his mighty works on our behalf?

  6. I'm with you, tph. Everyone has a choice. And if your choice is to stand even if the performance was not superb, who does it hurt? No one. People can get caught up in the little things in life that really don't matter at all in the grand scheme of things.

  7. I agree with Concord Pastor. The first time I was in an audience that stood for a mediocre performance, I was startled. The problem goes all the way back to the "every child gets a prize" notion. We should learn that some people do things better than others - and sometimes beyond their abilities! If indeed the last phrase about abilities is true, then indeed the performers deserve the "standing O"! If, however, those apparently qualified to do better don't, then why give them misleading praise? (Would I have the intestinal fortitude to remain seated if everyone else stood? Not necessarily)

  8. In general, I like your blog very much, but I thought this post was a bit too overstated. As Marie says, look into the grand sceme of things...all this post says to me is that the post and responders are making a mountain out of a molehill. Why not give a standing ovation? The people on stage have done thier best and should be commended for that. While thier best may not be up to the standards of others, it is still thier best. Kuddo's to them.

  9. Interesting comments: it never fails to amaze me which posts draw the most response!

    I stand by what I wrote.

    The question here is a simple one: What happens when a gesture commonly accepted to have a particular meaning is appropriated by some to have a different meaning?

    Underling the question is the presumption that gestures indeed have content and meaning, determined largely by social convention and definition. As such, gestures are like words: they speak, and they speak the truth - or something else. In an age and culture in which individuals freely interpret the truth as they understand it, it‘s easy to see how some might interpret words and gestures to mean what they intend them to mean – regardless of the definition held in common by others.

    We rely on the shared meaning of gestures and words to keep strong the bonds of society. When our language and gestures cease to mean what they had been agreed upon to mean, then language begins to fall apart. Failed language leads to confusion and possibly to chaos. (Consider the breakdown in language between parents and children; between politicians and the electorate; between the nations of the world, the religions of the world; between the Church’s leaders and members.)

    Does world peace hang on whether audiences rise or remain seated at a performance’s end? Of course not! Is something of value at stake when the meaning of posture in the theater is defined by the intentions of individuals? Yes.

    As Newine notes above, there are theological implications here. And that is especially true for those of us whose theology includes belief in Christ as the Incarnate Word of God. The meaning of words gestured and bodied forth is critically important for a people of faith whose prayer regularly bodies forth words and the Word in sacrament.

    Check out Newine's blog at http://newine.wordpress.com As you'll see, he's a man who takes words and their meanings seriously.

  10. I can't help but think what Jesus would think of this post.

    If someone gets up there and tries their best, even if it's not the greatest performance; what is wrong with giving a standing ovation? They may be "mediocre", to those who expect perfection; but to those who appreciate a performance when someone tries and gives their all; it deserves the standing ovation. Just as Jesus would do for us.

    There are many parents out there during recitals and plays who stand just out of simple thankfulness that their child was healthy enough to get out there and perform. Just think of a parent with a handicapped child. Do you not think they will stand and clap because their child simply accomplished something and tried hard? It's a shame our world is so complicated and demanding of perfection.

  11. At the end of the Saturday Easter Vigil I started to clap, but realized no one else was, so I didn't continue. I did feel as if our Triduum liturgies were very moving, very beautiful. I just spontaneously started to clap...Alleluia, Christ is risen...that deserves a standing ovation!

  12. I did think of you last night as the end of a lovely ballet (not outstanding in my eyes, but nice) came to an end and the audience got to its feet almost automatically. My husband and I got a chuckle and immediately thought about you!

  13. Last anonymous above: You don't mention whether or not your and your husband stood or remained seated - but I'm pleased that my post stuck in your mind and at least contributed to your awareness of what happens!

  14. I agree with you but I do have an exception.

    Any event put on by chioldren, especially mine, gets the STANDING O!


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