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On Making A Graceful Exit

January 22, 2009

Theatre critics and other performing arts community people often wonder how best to make a graceful exit from a venue when you don't like the show and have to run the gauntlet past the director/performers/producer etc on your way out to the sanctity of the nearest bar.

Some people I know simply slip out during the applause so that they don't have to risk confronting the artists. Ungracious cowards.

Others adopt the "two block rule", smiling benignly when asked what they thought of the show as they head out the door, and only letting out their true feelings when they've put at least two blocks of distance between themselves and the venue. This is also pretty yellow-bellied.

A third group simply lies through their teeth, telling the artists how much they enjoyed the show even when they really didn't get much out of it at all. On occasion, I imagine some critics even manage to persuade themselves that they did, after all, like what they saw and end up writing a panegyric in print. This is no worse, I suppose, than saying you thought a show was great to the director's face and then going on to slam his or her efforts in the review.

Finally, there's the use of the carefully turned phrase. This is hard to pull off as it requires confrontation while attempting to maintain one's integrity. A dramaturg friend of mine recently told me that when she's faced with talking to artists after a show she didn't like, she enthuses "I had the most marvelous seats! I could see everything from where I sat!" I've also heard people say things like, "Wow! That was really something!" and "Congratulations on all your hard work!" Some of these lines are OK. I usually get tongue-tied and can't think of them at the right moment though.

No method of dealing with this situation is ideal in other words. I can't pretend to have mastered the art of the graceful exit. But I'm getting better at it with practice.

In other news, "lies like truth" will be taking a long weekend break. I'm off to sunny Michigan today and will post again upon return to the Bay Area on Tuesday. Until then, keep your wits about you.


  • "Wow, it was great to see you on stage"
    "Great set"
    "Interesting script. Do you know why they chose it?"
    "you must be so thrilled"
    "What was it like working with the director?" (or any other question that turns the focus completely away from audience reaction)
    "This was great! I've never been to this theatre before"

    Although, the line I tend to use is "How do you feel about the show?"
    Then I know how honest I need to be. Because unless it's closing weekend, I feel that dumping on the show doesn't help performers bring the best of what they have for the rest of the run. If the actor rolls his or her eyes, then we usually go off in private and rip on it together. :-)

    By Blogger Dan Wilson, At January 22, 2009 at 9:17 AM  

  • I think it's also important for the overall theatre-going experience that artists involved with the show not confront their friends while they are still processing their experience. At my theater company New Leaf, we've actually talked about this as a company, and we've decided that we want the conversation surrounding our work to be positive and ongoing. So as the audience walks out the door, we don't EVER ask them what they thought... if they want to volunteer that, fine, but we simply thank our friends for making it, and ask them what they are working on so that we can choose to return the favor of their time.

    Why must we force our audience to make and reveal snap decisions like this? It's usually because we're uncontrollably insecure about the work. If we're confident in the work, as we should be, it's much easier to let the experience be the experience, and engage with the audience on their terms.

    By Blogger Nick Keenan, At January 25, 2009 at 11:21 AM  

  • Very nice blog! Bookmarked :)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At March 11, 2010 at 8:23 PM  

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