Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Stages of Bad Theatre

I don't know whether it's because I missed the IU-VCU game in favor of attending a high school play or if this--yet another poor excuse for a production--was simply the last straw in a long string of theatrical disappointments, but it occurred to me this evening that--as there are Five Stages of Grief--there are likewise Five Stages of Bad Theatre.  Read on.

The Five Stages of Grief go like this:  Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.  The Five Stages of Bad Theatre go like this:  Optimism, Benefit of the Doubt, Laughter, Endurance, Anger. 

Optimism Stage
This is why we continue to go.  We constantly hold out hope that the next production isn't going to be like the last.  In fact, we've really forgotten that last production, sort of like forgetting how awful childbirth is, how awful a hangover is, how awful you felt after you ate the whole thing.....  I mean, surely it wasn't as bad as we remember, right?  We were just...over-critical, that's all.  And so forward we go.

Benefit of the Doubt Stage
The show starts--ten minutes late.  I learned at drama school (from Mr. Wurger) that if the show doesn't start within seven minutes of curtain, then theatre etiquette dictates that you may, if you like, ask for a refund.  I've thought of this many times, but never actually enacted it.  In most theatre, it is NOT a good sign.  It generally means that something is amiss backstage.  We may never know what it is or it may become painfully clear as the production slogs forward.  The Benefit of the Doubt Stage can sometimes last into mid-act, but most often it wraps up within the first ten minutes.  By then, you've had a chance to appraise the set, the costumes, size up character (or lack thereof), evaluate general production values and, sadly, the theatrical standards of all involved.  You emit a sigh as long as the air deflating from a balloon and move into....

The Laughter Stage
In this stage, you give up all hope that you're going to be engaged in and entertained by the actual production, and you look for other things to amuse you.  Poorly (or never) rehearsed, special effects, for example (the fog machine will set off the smoke alarm--who knew?); costuming details that would have taken very little to correct (the king was wearing Chuck Taylors--very middle ages); set anomalies that cause confusion (all the bare wood made it look more like a construction site than the interior of an aristocrat's mansion....); bobbled lines (which aren't nearly so entertaining as the cast's reaction to them).  Anything and everything--and before long, EVERYTHING is funny.  You've got your hand clamped over your own mouth and you're fighting a losing battle to not make eye contact with the poor fool who accompanied you to this fiasco.

The Endurance Stage
Comes after intermission.  You and your companion(s) have relieved yourselves of long-suppressed laughter (outside and around the corner of the building) and eventually regained your composure in time for another entire act.  It is sometime during this stage that it becomes an event to endure.  You read through your playbill [again], you look at your watch, you look at the people in the audience.  How many more scenes, how many more songs?  You look at your phone.  You check your email.  Facebook.  Play Words with Friends.  And sigh.

The Anger Stage
Although Anger is the second stage in the stages of grief, it is the final stage in the Stages of Bad Theatre.  You grow irritated.  It's definitely NOT funny anymore and it becomes an annoyance.  By God, this is ENOUGH!!  Why did I not leave at intermission?  Why am I even still here???  These are the precious moments of my life and I will NEVER get them back.  Think of what I COULD be doing instead of sitting through this theatrical holocaust.  And when the lights finally go down just before the curtain call and everyone rises for the [WHA-A-A--TTT????] standing ovation, you grab your companion's hand and bolt from the theatre.  You burst out of the building, gasping for fresh air, and stagger to your car.  Free at last.  Your time is own again.  But lesson learned?  Sadly, probably not.... 


  1. We usually leave before we hit the Endurance stage. (Unless, of course, it's something our kids are in, like a dance recital; dance recitals are pretty much always horrible and should be banned. We no longer take dance at studios with required recitals.) Anyway, at that point we do an economic analysis of the sunk cost of the tickets plus time, and decide we shouldn't waste anything else.

    We DID stay all the way through Joseph and the Amazing, etc., because it was so mind-blowingly bad that we were stuck in the Laughter stage. It got even crazier towards the end -- they had come up with a new song to end with, and everyone (including Potiphar and his wife) came on stage and sang some ditzy little drivel about being a family. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes I might not have believed it, so it was good we stayed. But then we had to RUN out during the ovation before I started screaming. Or maybe I DID start screaming -- it was all so surreal at that point.

  2. I wonder how often I put people though this....