Saturday, June 16, 2007

Guilt Break!

I actually posted this on the theatre website where I do my reviews, but I'm still feeling guilty for it, so I'm confessing here, as well....

I've never been late to a show before. OK, I've relied on the six-to-ten minute "grace period" on occasion, and, once or twice, snuck in during the Overture, but I've never been really late. Until today.

It should take 20 minutes to get the theatre with no traffic. I figured it would take 40. I allowed 60.

It took 100.

And in the particularly devious circumstances of LA traffic, I actually thought I could still make it right up until about eight minutes before the 4:00 show time. Because my car's GPS, in its optimistic way, calculates the "time left to destination" based on top speeds, and since I only had about 4 miles left to go, I could've made it if at 3:52 traffic would have just started moving.

It didn't. And when I was still on the 405 at 4:10, I realized I was going to be substantially late. For a minute, I toyed with just going home and rescheduling, but I didn't want the theatre to think I was the sort of person who would accept press tickets for a show and then just flake, so I pressed on -- figuring I'd just take my lumps and see the latter part of the show.

By 4:30, I was inching my way through surface roads and praying for an intermission.

At 4:40, I was pulling into the parking garage and saw people leaving the theatre holding programs. "Crap," I thought, "Did I miss the whole thing?" (No, that was just the crowd from the show playing on their other stage.)

I finally run up around 4:45. I'm looking for the press table, but, of course, they've put that away by now. I see some helpful-looking theatre employees at the "Concierge Desk." (And the little voice in the back of my head says, "Concierge desk? Is this a hotel?") I say I'm really late for the show and can I just sneak in back and watch whatever is left of it? They ask for my ticket. I say it's a press ticket that I was supposed to pick up. ("Time is ticking here, people," says the voice in the back of my head.) The lady at the concierge desk tells me that I have to pick my ticket up at the box office. She also tells me that the show started at 4:00 (the voice in the back of my head says, "I know. That very thought has been foremost in my mind for the past hour and a half") and there's only twenty minutes left. Would I like to reschedule for another performance?

I'd spent the last hour and a half desperately hoping I'd get to the damn theatre on time (or, at least, not phenomenally late) and, in a reaction to the frustration of not being immediately let in and the thought of doing this again ... I burst into tears.

At this point, a nice lady in a green suit -- perhaps thinking that having a theatre critic blubbering outside the box office isn't good for business -- escorts me into the Founders Room.  She flicks on a flat screen TV which is showing the performance, hands me a stack of cocktail napkins (to act as tissues), and tells me I can watch the show from here, and when I'm ready, she'll take me into the theatre. (Although I am a mess, the little voice in the back of my head has the presence of mind to check out the super secret room where only the big donors can go and thinks, "Ooooo, breaking down outside the theatre gets you a peek into the Founders Room.")

I sit down and attempt to compose myself. Frankly, I can't even put a finger on exactly why I've just melted down, although I think it's something about being a total failure as an audience member -- an obligation which I take very seriously.

I watch the show on the TV screen for a few minutes, but it really does not play well on television.  I figure I'd better get myself together right quick, so I can go inside and see this the way it was meant to be seen.

I throw some water on my face (little voice takes note of the two private bathrooms the big donors get), and come out. The nice lady in the green suit has disappeared. I go to the box office and pick up my ticket. I aim towards the auditorium, hoping someone will let me in.

Someone does. I hand the nice man my ticket. I tell the nice man to just give me a seat in the back (as I don't want to distract anyone). The nice man takes me in the theatre. He starts walking down the aisle and then turns on his flashlight. ("Oh no!" says the little voice, "I'm the latecomer who has to be seated by flashlight!") He aims me toward a seat for which I have to step over a couple people giving me annoyed looks. I make a mental note to remember this moment, so that I'll stop giving annoyed looks to latecomers who step over me in the future.

The show ends with "Rhapsody in Blue" played on piano.  Right around this time, I hear a different song, "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," coming from somewhere on my left.  It doesn't sound like a cell phone -- it sounds like someone accidentally turned a radio on in their purse.  The Cyndi Lauper finally is silenced, and I go back to listening to "Rhapsody in Blue."  As people in the audience realize he's not just playing a few bars of it, a few people around me start having a conversation -- operating, I guess, on the theory that since there's no actual dialogue on stage, it's OK for them to have their own. The little voice in the back of my head decides that I am not, in fact, the most insensitive theatregoer ever, given that I was only accidentally late, while these morons are willfully talking over Rhapsody in Freakin' Blue.

I push them out of my mind and try to curl up in the music. I usually listen to music while I'm doing other things -- and now I took the opportunity here to really listen to the piece -- the recurring melodies, the way the phrases interwove ... even the choices being made by the pianist.  I started to cry again. Mostly because I was still pretty unstable, but also because I felt sorry for the people who were talking over the song.  The show is giving you a gift here, a chance to just put everything else aside and do nothing but enjoy a (fairly easily accessible) musical classic, and they weren't even trying.  As if they thought they'd already gotten everything there was to get out of the piece, so it could just serve as underscoring for their own private conversation.  I was frustrated that they didn't get it.  This isn't a recording on your ipod; it's live music.  It's why we attend musical theatre, ya bozos, rather than just listening on CDs.  It's live.  It changes every time it is played, based on the musician and the audience -- through that indescribable magic that is live theatre.  They perform; we react; they feel it; and it changes.

I think it's precisely my understanding of the performer/audience relationship that makes me feel so guilty about showing up late.  I didn't hold up my end of the bargain.

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