By: Paulanne Simmons
The theater is hushed. The house lights go off. Hugh Jackman walks onstage and the audience bursts into riotous applause
Why? Jackman, as talented as he may be, has as yet done nothing to merit such acclaim. So it’s only reasonable to assume the audience is clapping for one (perhaps both) of two reasons. Jackman’s fans are showing the actor how much they appreciate him or how much they are anticipating his performance.
Either way, this is detrimental to the show. When the actor walks onstage in a play, that actor is not Hugh Jackman or Patti LuPone or James Earl Jones. The actor is the character he or she is play. Applause destroys this illusion and takes both the audience and the actor out of the place they should be to best interpret the playwright’s words.
What’s more, one can only imagine how the other, lesser known actors must feel when they walk onstage, unrecognized and unheralded. These hard-working men and women become second-class citizens in a play they have worked so hard to bring to life.
But perhaps the worst aspect of entrance applause is that it is part of the cult of the star, which is currently doing so much to ruin good theater.
One suspects people applaud when a famous actor walks onstage mostly to acknowledge that they are savvy enough to recognize this esteemed personage. Even before entering the theater, they have read the right magazines, perused the most important reviews and seen the biggest shows. This applause may serve more to gratify their own egos than to please the actor.
It would be nice if people chose shows they would like to see on the basis of other factors as well: the subject matter, the playwright, the director. This would do much to insure that producers would think twice before putting their money behind a shoddy production, with the cynical hope that it will succeed because a big movie star is taking the lead.
But if people are not interested in any of the above, let them at least keep quiet and not disturb those in the audience who have come to the theater to see a play and not a star.