Jackson Browne made eye contact with me last Sunday. My dad took me to see the legendary singer/songwriter at the historic Tivoli Theater and we had excellent seats (hence the eye contact). It was a dream show for us both and a beautiful, moving performance.
I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to see one of my favorite musicians with one of my favorite humans and, further, I am incredibly fortunate to be able to experience quality live performances routinely. I reiterate this because what follows may seem like a complaint. It’s not.
Jackson Browne was sitting at the piano when he pointed and looked directly at me (ask G. David, it’s true). That put me in a starry-eyed trance that continued as he began a melancholy love song and I lost myself in his music. That is until an unfamiliar torso smacked me in the face. I had to stand up to let the woman out of our row, which caused a greater disturbance as my hose snagged on the chair and my attempt to be swift and graceful failed.
There were several other instances of interference between the artist and audience, including someone answering his cellphone, hecklers and many people leaving their seats.
I was recounting these observations to a group of friends and I said rather flippantly, “I think I’ll write an article about how to be a good audience member.”
And one of my friends said, “Well, what is proper behavior for an audience member? Sometimes we need reminders.”
As a seasoned audience member and director of an organization that presents a majority of our programming to an audience, I feel qualified to posit that the following are the most important behaviors to observe as an audience member:
Emergencies do happen. If you need to leave your seat, it is best to wait until a break between scenes or songs and close doors quietly to minimize disruption. The same applies to patrons who arrive late to a show — it’s best to wait for a break in the music or action to find a seat.
Helpful hint: If you have physical concerns (hearing loss, wheelchair, etc.) that make attending live performances challenging, call the theater. Arts venues are ready and happy to help make their performances accessible to everyone.
Taking children is also a personal decision. There are so many reasons why attending live performance is important and rewarding for young people. It also can be very stressful for the child and her guardian.
My advice to anyone considering taking a small child to any live performance is to do your research. The staff at The Arts Center is happy to discuss all logistics of an event — from how long it is, to how mature the content is, to any technical aspects that might be frightening — and I suspect most theaters are also. Personally, I consider whether the performance would keep my young daughter’s attention and assess how tired/cranky she is before I decide to take her to a show. I want her to be exposed to many art forms, but I also want the people around us (and myself) to enjoy the show.
Helpful hint: If you find yourself in an audience with a squirmy or vocal child — relax. Most people understand. I’ve been there certainly. For instance, at a recent performance of Junie B. Jones, my girl was having a great time until she realized she was hungry. When she started screaming for a snack, I waited calmly until the song ended and handed her to my mother, who quietly took her out of the theatre.
When you attend a live performance, you enter an unspoken covenant between the audience around you and the performers on stage. The performers agree to create art for you and you agree to pay attention. The simplest way to “be a good audience member” is to uphold your commitment to being fully present for the experience.
That’s the only way to get goosebumps.
P.S. — These behaviors are certainly customizable according to the event. For instance, if you’re at a rock show, dancing on your feet and screaming lyrics might just be the best way to uphold your commitment to the artist.
Lauren Shepherd is the executive director of the Athens Area Council for the Arts. Learn more about AACA by calling 745-8781 or visiting athen sartscouncil.org