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Stale Popcorn

January 11, 2007

John Heilpern of The New York Observer is annoyed at a plan proposed by some New York theatres to allow patrons to bring food in to munch during shows. In his article on the subject published yesterday, a dismayed Heilpern thinks that “chowing down in the theater will kill the theater.” To which I reply,”nonsense.” West End theaters have been allowing audience members to bring sweets, popcorn and drinks in for years and it’s never caused any problems. If people are relatively quiet about their munching, I don’t suppose it’s going to create trouble. Actors who claim to be distracted by, as Heilpern says of Patti Lupone, people fighting over a bag of popcorn, possibly aren’t as well immersed in their work on stage as they should be. People cough, splutter, whisper, sneeze and rustle clothes throughout shows and it’s never an issue. And I don’t think you can equate the noise of someone messing about with a candy wrapper with the sound of a cellphone ringing -- which is very inorganic and does tend to stick out above other less intrusive sounds, eating being one of them.

I have to say that the most congenial theatre experiences are ones that involve being able to sip wine and nibble snacks once you’re cosy in your seat. I, for one, love going to see plays at The Exit Theatreplex in San Francisco because it’s one of the few houses in the city that encourages people to buy snacks at the little cafe at the front of the venue and bring them in to the play. Some seats even have a ledge in front of them for balancing drinks and such. I’ve always really enjoyed the cabaret-theatre experience, where you get to sit with friends at little round tables and enjoy a glass while you watch the performance. The ban on eating in theatres is part of the same puritanical strain in western theatre that dictates that you can’t clap until the end of a show. The theatre is a living, breathing space. People should be allowed to relax and enjoy themselves. A much more constructive way about controlling noise is simply to tell people to unwrap noisy food items before the lights go down. But to be honest, I don’t think noise is the biggest issue here; it’s mess. How can theatre managers encourage patrons to pick up after themselves and not leave peanuts strewn all over the floor? If they can solve the garbage issue, I think all will be well.

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