The Theater Above the Theater

Fly systems, rigging systems, whatever you want to call them, just know there’s a very serious show happening in the 60-plus feet of air above the show on stage.

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Looking up into the “fly space” on the side of the Morsani stage. (Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.)

One of the wondrous aspects of theatrical life, even from its beginnings, is the delightful mix of labor, craft and personalities required to pull off a show soup to nuts. In the performing arts world, the blue collar meets the sequined collar, toe shoes meet steel-toed boots and the Type A work ethic unites all the players from the star of the show to the spotlight operator. If you understand theater as a living organism, you understand that everyone is equally vital.

However, what remains seen on stage normally gets the lion’s share of attention. But what about what (and who) you can’t see?

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A micro-view of the intricate knots used to anchor the Morsani Hall fly system. Theater fly systems were modeled after seafaring lines and rigs used for large sailing vessels. (Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.)

A show – especially at the scale of Broadway and grand opera – simply cannot happen if the “theater magic” isn’t engineered with mathematical precision. Often, enormous, heavy set pieces float up and down, in and out of scenes to denote setting changes or to enhance show numbers. For fans of The Lion King, Peter Pan and Mary Poppins, you know the primal thrill of seeing the beloved characters take flight, spin through the air, leap across rooms or glide into the show via umbrella.

These theatrical feats execute through the fly system, or rigging system, which is an elaborate superstructure of ropes, pulleys, bars, weights and fasteners that make lighting, scene changes and flying people possible. From the audience, the fly system remains invisible, but if you’ve ever wondered why professional theaters are so ungodly tall, that’s why: there needs to be a tremendous amount of space above the stage to store the show’s pieces out-of-sight, suspended over the stage to be released and hoisted on cue during the performance. We have about 70 feet of “fly space” in Morsani Hall to accommodate the large-scale theatrics of Broadway and opera.

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Along the side wall of Ferguson Hall stage, you can see the ropes and weights on the flyrail.

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Further up the wall, almost to the top of the fly system.

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At the very top of the Ferguson stage “fly space” are all of the pulleys.

Our production team, the “boots on the ground” who rig each incoming show, sends a schematic called an “advance” to the show that outlines the technical capabilities of Ferguson or Morsani (or whatever house the show will be using). The show, say, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I which will be in Morsani May 2-7, then gives our team a detailed blueprint, similar to an architectural rendering, of measurements, dimensions, set pieces, weight of each set piece, etc., so our team will have a heads-up for what to expect when the show loads in.

Here’s where it gets mortally serious.

Rigging a show – that is, hooking hundreds or thousands of pounds of equipment to hang over the heads of human beings walking underneath – is no joke. The riggers themselves (often noted as the cowboys of theater) often must work at death-defying heights to secure the heavy set pieces, hang lighting and load counterweights for each metal bar that brings objects in and out of scenes.

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Side lights hanging from a bar.

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About half way up to the grid above Ferguson stage.

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Almost to the top of the “fly space.” You can see the metal bars and curtains hanging and the grid directly above.

“Communication is very important between the flyman, the carpenter on the deck, the weight loaders and the rigging crew to work safely and not hurt anyone,” says Straz Center flyman Dave Reynolds. “Many of these moves are made during the show, and they’re done in blackouts with cast and crew on stage. Any massive piece of scenery that moves needs to be coordinated properly for safety. I get to do something I love every day as well. I take my job here very seriously and strive to be one of the best flymen the country.”

The most dangerous job in theater is setting up the rigging for a show and taking it down at the end of the run. If an opera uses a 700-pound backdrop, that backdrop is hung on a “pipe” or metal bar that is controlled by a rope or “line.” The line needs 700 pounds of counterweight on it to achieve what is called a “balanced load.” The rigger sets a hand brake on the line to secure it in place. When it’s show time, the flyman pops the brake, guiding the line with the balanced load, and the audience sees the smooth, light entrance and exit of a 700-pound backdrop. What the audience never sees is the extreme safety precautions riggers take to make sure they never drop 50-pound counterweights from a catwalk 45 feet in the air or drop pipes from the same height. Or miscalculate and drop a 700-pound backdrop on Lieutenant Pinkerton.

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View of the side of Ferguson stage looking down from the grid at the very top of the “fly space.” See that tiny piano on the stage?

So, the effortless appearance of scenery or characters swooping in from the wings or down from the “ceiling” actually requires quite a bit of effort, engineering, safety expertise and chutzpah from men and women who don’t get dressing rooms but do get to star in one of the most important roles in any theater production.

Soul Soil: A-List Choreographer Moses Pendleton and the Alchemy of Turning Human Bodies into Saguaro Cacti and Other Odd Things

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MOMIX Opus Cactus. (Photo: Charles Azzopardi)

When Moses Pendleton, the superstar co-founder of Pilobolus and dance maker extraordinaire, was a wee lad, one of his jobs on the family dairy farm was to feed the veal calves a nutritious milk supplement. The name of the supplement?

Momix.

Pendleton returned to this physical memory later when he choreographed a solo for the 1980 Moscow Olympics called “Momix,” the “mo” reportedly doubling as a reference to Pendleton himself, the “mix” alluding to the grab-bag of theatrical delights Pendleton throws into his dance-making stew. To call what Pendleton does “dance” is misleading, especially for someone who may associate the word with classical, recognizable forms like ballet, jazz or even contemporary or hip-hop.

It’s more like movement theatrics.

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MOMIX Opus Cactus comes to The Straz on March 23. (Photo: Charles Azzopardi)

As a co-founder of Pilobolus, his first movement endeavor with fellow Dartmouth dance student Jonathan Wolken and others, Pendleton and crew pulled another name from a family source. Wolken’s dad was studying a certain light-loving fungus called Pilobolus crystallinus, and the name, Pilobolus [pe-LOB-ah-lus], stuck. The women and men of Pilobolus were way more into upending expectations than presenting pretty works to show off technique (hey, this was the ‘70s, after all, so being far out was, well    . . . far out! . . . and most of them didn’t have any dance training, anyway).  What they created was a mad-cap theatrical spectacle that relied as much on brute strength and derring-do as it did on anyone’s ability to extend through the line.

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An early performance of “Pilobolus.” This is the seminal work from which the company evolved. (Photo: Tim Matson)

By the end of the ‘70s, Pendleton’s creative drive led him to form a new company, a sort of off-shoot of the Pilobolus idea but with more intentional stagecraft like lighting tricks, props, and soundscaping. The name he chose conformed to the earth-family ties of Pilobolus nomenclature. The name that stuck?

MOMIX.

Pendleton, whose rural, agricultural upbringing defined his world view, eventually bought a Connecticut compound complete with a rambling 22-room main farmhouse and a converted horse barn for the MOMIX movement lab. He meant to explore the human form in non-human worlds, blending his study of animals, plants and minerals into works of gorgeous, simple explorations of themes: seasons (Botanica), the moon (Lunar Sea), the four elements (Alchemia).

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MOMIX Lunar Sea. (Photos: Max Pucciariello)

Even now as a man in his late-60s, he follows the same routine that he has for decades: get up, swim, build fire, go on walk, work. These walks, from three to four hours in the woods around his home, include copious photographs, many of which inspire later choreography. His photos, which are quite stunning, have been on exhibit in the United States and Europe and serve, as one gallery curator noted, as tangible documentation of where his dances come from. Sunflowers, decaying foliage, trees, lichen, rock formations—these images compel Pendleton and his MOMIX dancers to work tirelessly in the horse barn animating the non-human world through the human body, “the greatest toy we have,” Pendleton says.

To connect his dancers’ souls to the soil, Pendleton invites them to his land, giving them good old fashioned chores like weeding, tending the sunflower fields and planting marigolds to build their personal connection to the living things they will embody. He demands his dancers possess acting and mimetic skills equal to their dancing ability because the work of MOMIX often requires dancers to become something other than human—especially in his work coming here March 23, a reboot of his 2001 ingenious depiction of the southwestern desert mystique, Opus Cactus.

Opus Cactus, perhaps one of Pendleton’s most critically-acclaimed works (and definitely an audience favorite), captures the desert garden world of the southwest. With the help of entrancing world music and a lighting palette worthy of Georgia O’Keefe, the dancers morph in and out of various splendors found in the sun and sand—including the sun and the sand. Cacti tableaux abound as Pendleton’s crop of muscular dancer-gymnast-illusionists take the forms of the iconic saguaro and the pretty, lobular prickly pear.

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MOMIX Opus Cactus. (Photo: Charles Azzopardi)

The trick to really enjoying MOMIX is to not think about it too much. Even MOMIX will tell you that most of the time it doesn’t “mean” anything. An evening with MOMIX is meant to bring satisfaction to the audience, in whatever ways works, whether it’s the deft use of props and costumes or the sensual architecture of human bodies morphing into fighting Gila monsters or mimicking the suspended-in-air radiation of desert heat.

As Pendleton said in an interview, “we are nurtured by nature. It’s a muse, an inspiration. Which jumps right into the aesthetic of MOMIX. There’s a level of the surreal and dream, and making the connection with plant, animal and mineral.”

Fun MOMIX note: maybe you’re getting a certain familiar feeling looking at the MOMIX pix? Well, you may remember the company from a few commercials, like this one from Hanes:

Or Target:

Seasons of Love

Adults around the world offer inspiration to LGBTQ youth through the It Gets Better Project.

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A scene from It Gets Better. Photo: Morten Kier.

In 2010, a series of teen suicides shocked the news cycle, shoving the real-life consequences of tormenting classmates into the national spotlight.

Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old violinist and freshman at Rutgers University, leapt to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate secretly Facebook live-streamed Clementi in a romantic encounter. Seth Walsh, 13, of California, and Billy Lucas, 15, of Indiana, hanged themselves after non-stop verbal abuse by their middle school classmates. Asher Brown, 13, from Texas, shot himself for the same reason.

There are other stories across the generations, all equally horrifying, all the direct results of school bullying of kids who happened to be gay.

The psychological effect of ridicule, especially in middle school years, shapes the brain and taps into one of the greatest human fears: the fear of abandonment (being outcast from one’s community). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) young people, who report that they often have no adults in their lives who they can talk to about personal problems*, must face this hostile school world day after day after day. And, let’s face it, middle school and high school can be rough enough socially without the added pressures of dealing with someone else’s arbitrary judgment about sexual orientation.

It can seem, trapped in a well of ridicule, that life will never get better, that there’s no way out.

These LGBTQ suicide reports fell across the desk of syndicated columnist Dan Savage, who survived middle school and high school as a “semi-out gay man” and went on to create a really great life for himself. He decided to carry a very important, very vital message to the next generation of young people toughing it out in the often cruel heteronormative ball of confusion that is middle school and high school: it gets better.

Savage and his partner, Terry Miller, created a simple video, posted it on YouTube, and it went viral instantly. The It Gets Better Project was born, and adults around the world saw their chance to step up and offer hope to LGBTQ kids. The list of celebrity testimonies grew, as did the corporations who valued diversity, creativity and inclusivity: Apple, Google, Pearson Education, Pixar, Facebook and NASA all taped videos for the It Gets Better Project. So did the Fire Department of New York, the Austin Police Department and Lt. James “Jim” Young of Orlando PD.

In time, It Gets Better went on tour, stopping in cities around the country for week-long residencies with local LGBTQ youth to create a concert based on the unique experiences of those young people.

It Gets Better evolved from a simple message of hope to an entire out-and-open community specifically lifting up LGTBQ young people who need support making it through their toughest years. Community serves as a source of strength, and adults built a visible, accessible network through It Gets Better as living proof that every wonderful, vibrant, creative and resilient fiber of an LGBTQ person has a place in the world somewhere, with something unique and valuable to offer.

As NASA says in their video: “You are necessary.”

This year, It Gets Better arrives in Tampa, with a performance here at The Straz on March 24.


For more information on the show and tour, take a look here .

*from the Human Rights Campaign’s report “Growing up LGBT in America: HRC Youth Survey Report Key Findings.”

A Cinderella Story

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Left to Right: Charles Robinson illustration inspired by Perrault’s version; Oliver Herford illustration inspired by Perrault’s version; Alexander Zick illustration inspired by the Brothers Grimm version.

Folk and fairy tale scholars estimate there may be 1500 different versions of the Cinderella tale, the earliest originating in Greece and China.

In Greece, the story is called Rhodopis, in which an eagle snatched Rhodopis’ shoe and transports it to the lap of the king of Egypt. In China, it is the story of Yeh-hsien and although she has no fairy godmother, a magical fish helps her along, and a golden shoe identifies Yeh-hsien to a prince who wants to marry her.

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The origins of the the ancient Greek fairy-tale figure Rhodopis may be traced back to the 6th-century BC hetaera Rhodopis.

The Algonquin Indians have a version called “The Rough-Face Girl,” and in west Africa, the heroine is called Chinye. The tale survives in cultures spanning the globe, with the star known by local noemclature including Vasilisa in Russia, Angkat in Cambodia, The Turkey Girl in the Native American Zuni tradition and, in Mexico and in Mexican American traditions, she is Adelita and Domitila.

The most recognized American version comes from French lawyer and writer Charles Perrault, from a story he published in 1697: “Cendrillion, ou la petite pantoufle de verre” or “Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper,” a version that included a fairy godmother, a pumpkin carriage and a pair of glass slippers.

Rodgers and Hammerstein took that version and wrote a made-for-TV musical in 1957 for a very talented young actress and singer, Julie Andrews. The story was remade twice, once in 1965 with Lesley Anne Warren and again in 1997 with the singer, Brandy, as Cinderella and Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother. In 2013, the stage version of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA debuted on Broadway for the first time ever, featuring a new book by Douglas Carter Beane and direction by Mark Brokaw. It appeared at the Straz Center in 2014.

The operatic telling of Cinderella’s rags-to-riches journey debuted in 1817 with music by Gioachino Rossini and a libretto by Jacopo Ferretti. Here, the outcast step-daughter goes by Angelina (aka Cenerentola,) her Italian name, and tears out of the ball without any glass slippers (or fairy godmother) at all. However, she does last the whole opera as a comic turn on the tale, finishing with a fancy flourish of an aria – certainly befitting a princess.

See Opera Tampa’s production of Rossini’s La Cenerentola February 10 and 12.

Nacho Everyday Percussionist

Nacho Arimany’s years working with rhythm showed him how natural harmonic patterns heal the human body and mind.

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At first glance, Nacho Arimany can easily be confused for a European version of holistic healer J.P. Sears in the “Ultra Spiritual” spoofs.

But after a few moments into an interview or demonstration, Arimany reveals himself as the real deal. Here, he explains the cultural component of the recent neuroscientific findings about the effects of movement and rhythm on the brain:

Known around the world as “one of the most sought after Flamenco percussionists, composers and musicians for the brain,” ground-breaking, multi-cultural instrumentalist Arimany has mastered sound-scaping instruments from tiny harps to singing bowls to gourds. His work in bands and studying diverse ethnic communities and their percussion instruments drew Arimany down a rabbit hole of Fibonacci perfection when he began to make the rhythmic connections between mathematical truths like the golden ratio, frequency in the natural world, and the effects of certain resonances on the human body.

Arimany’s work rests on the foundation that 432 hertz (Hz) is the resonance of biological rhythms, termed “sound biology.” Humans exposed to instruments tuning to 432 Hz undergo physiological changes that enhance cellular harmony—bodies and minds literally tune themselves to this frequency (as bodies are chock full of biological rhythms). The result, Arimany explains, can improve fine motor skills, mental health and promote brain function through harmonic resonance. Over time, he created the Arimany Method, a blend of movement and rhythm used as a meditation to create “new architecture in the brain.”

Nacho Arimany, who performs for the first time at The Straz with Flamenco guitarist Pablo Sáinz Villegas, will serve in his traditional role as multi-talented percussionist to Villegas’s famed flying fingers. You’ll see percussion incarnate, and just know, if you start to feel an unfamiliar sense of cosmic resonance, that Arimany may have taken you on the magical 432 carpet ride.

Go With the Flow

Florida-born National Water Dance Day connects dancers to the life source

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Water Dance Day participants in Miami, FL.

Earth is mostly water, a chemical compound that covers about 71% of the surface of our extraordinary, life-rich planet. The infant human body, by comparison, starts at about 75% water (so, very similar), though we drop in wetness as we age. The human fruit, we see every day, starts quite grape-like and ends quite raisin-like.

Water, a simple molecule of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom (H20), serves a complex, vital, fascinating function in the creation and perpetuation of life on earth. We drink it in liquid form, eat it in solid form, use it to cool down, use it to heat up. Water feeds our food and cooks our food, cleans us and supplies a lifetime of happiness in the forms of swimming, fishing, diving, paddling, snorkeling, boating . . . the list goes on.

Most importantly, water keeps us alive.

Water inspires every single artistic discipline: painting, sculpting, pottery, textiles, music, theater, filmmaking, photography.

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Inspired by travels and deep water dives, Shayna Leib, a Madison, Wisconsin-based artist, created a stunning glass artwork series, Wind and Water.

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), The Wave, 1879.

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Alberta Ferretti presented an ocean-inspired FW16 collection at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week, 2016. (Getty Images/Francois Durand)

Water, in particular, inspires dance. Most ancient and indigenous cultures celebrated the deities of water or bodies of water themselves in specific dances. America’s wild woman modern dance matron, Isadora Duncan, gained acclaim performing to Strauss’s The Blue Danube and rose to fame with her meditation on water, Water Study, in the early 1900s. Her style of dance became synonymous with the free-spirit of modern dance and dance’s obvious connection to nature—a “body” of water, a “body” of dance work, so to speak.

Florida, a former coral reef with some of the greatest biodiversity in its water systems in North America, has its own peculiar history with water. With most of the state covered in swampland when America hustled and bustled into the mid-20th century as a major industrialized nation, the biggest obstacle to growth and development was the pesky problem of how to literally drain the Florida swamp. In his comprehensive Everglades history, The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida and the Politics of Paradise, historian Michael Grunwald recounts the Army Corps of Engineers’ steps to tame by force Florida’s mighty waterways. The Army Corps issued Waters of Destiny, a propaganda film pitting humankind against its worst nightmare, water, a “villain” that was “the scourge of mankind, burying life and land under its relentless and merciless depths.” This attitude was rather well-received at the time and ushered in several decades of the worst environmental degradation on human record. Clean water in Florida a generation later, like water in an alarming number of states and countries, inched towards crisis. From then ‘til now, news reports flow in detailing pollution, droughts, falling water tables, the collapse of the natural springs and the yearly algae blooms from the Lake Okechobee discharges, the need for citizens to respond to Florida’s predicament pushed Miami choreographer and dancer Dale Andree to create National Water Dance.

“National Water Dance is a catalyst for empowering and informing students, dance artists and the community. For us, it is an ongoing question of what are we achieving and what do we hope to achieve? Our goal is action through inspiration,” Andree says. The organization exchanges research, articles, and video clips of other dancers and choreographers who have a water ethic and are creating outdoor works.

National Water Dance, a non-profit dedicated to fostering this new water ethic of personal responsibility, organizes members on the internet. Every two years, members create a “movement choir” around the country and live stream the event. Participants spend the months prior to Water Dance Day collaborating on shared movements and phrases and choosing their site-specific locations. Some dancers perform in parks or near public city fountains, some dance in rivers or on beaches. All participants are guided through the process of securing permits if necessary and for using the shared movements in their choreography.

“Connecting to the environment through performance has a visceral effect on the performers as well as those witnessing,” says Andree. “It creates an opportunity for the participants to use their physical voice to bring attention to these water issues and to do it in community with concerned dancers all across the state and the country. Our hope is that the energy, beauty and commitment of these student and professional dancers offers another lens by which the audience can be touched and moved to action.”

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Dancers from Grinnell College in Iowa participate in Water Dance Day.

Although access to water, especially as the environmental toll on clean water spikes, has come under scrutiny as a modern-day battleground, Andree remains hopeful that each person’s efforts—each drop in the bucket—will eventually add up to a solution that works, especially for Florida and the United States.

“In creating National Water Dance, I wanted to focus on the United States because I felt we so often see the problems outside of ourselves and miss the ones facing us,” she says. “As I developed the project, I realized what a bridge it presented for our communities in such a divided time. One of the most satisfying experiences for me is the sense of belonging and of creating a movement that addresses real issues in every community. We are building that movement and belonging with dance. We share the knowledge of our bodies and the expression that results to address the issues around the most basic need of survival, water, by connecting to our diverse environments. Our internet community has formed bridges of understanding and experience beyond politics.”

The next National Water Dance Day will be April 14, 2018. Here is the video of Water Dance Day 2016:

For more details about National Water Dance, visit here.

What Is Up With Not Sitting Down

A humorous look at the rise of the standing ovation … guess this is just what we do now.

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The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Hamlet directed by Matthew Warchus, Plácido Domingo in a solo concert of arias, the premiere of Neil Simon’s Rumors, the launch of Broadway’s Footloose, Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Firebird with *the* Virginia Johnson as Firebird – this recognizable, mostly legendary list (sorry, Footloose, you weren’t legendary, but we still liked you) shares an interesting feature: not a single one ended with a standing ovation. We know because we were there.

These were fantastic shows—amazing, jaw-dropping, soul-igniting performances, all hitting the boards in the late 90’s and all worthy of sitting ovations. Standing ovations happened during rare, once-in-a-lifetime occurrences. They signified an honoring of the highest possible achievement. An artist or performance had to surpass perfection.

Twenty years ago we didn’t stand for Sir Ian McKellen (a.k.a. Gandalf, Magneto) in a one-man Beckett play, but today we jump to our feet as soon as the third place winner from American Idol finishes a set of radio cover songs. Nowadays, attend any performance from the meh to the miraculous and it matters not: the audience stands, ovating, some even walking and clapping to get to the parking lot before everybody else.

What’s changed over the years? Is it the end-of-show equivalent of an A for effort? Is it, as some psychologists have argued, our attempt to justify paying for a live experience now that we’re spoiled by so much free online entertainment? Or maybe that same online entertainment is such rubbish we leap in gratitude by seeing decent art? Perhaps we are just more enthusiastic supporters of performing arts than our possibly more stiff-shirted predecessors.

We attempted researching this change, starting with the history of the standing ovation, yet we found no clear answers. The most interesting factoid, though, traced back to Roman times. After war, any leader who racked up the most impressive battle victories returned to Rome for his “triumph,” a parade celebrating his clear victories and spoils. The guy who came in second-place for battle greatness earned an “ovation,” a parade acknowledging he did alright out there and deserved props for whatever destruction, pillaging and land usurpation he wrested by force. A sheep (“ovis” in Latin) died in bloody sacrifice to his win, thus the origin of “ovation.”

What we did, find, however, were some very clear, hilariously vicious opinions penned by theater critics here and abroad scorching the now common practice of standing to clap at the end of a show.

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Ben Brantley, the well-known theater critic at The New York Times, wrote an urgent call for the return of the sitting ovation after he witnessed the audience staying seated *gasp* for a perfectly good Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 2012. “Pretty much every show you attend on Broadway these days ends with people jumping to their feet and beating their flippers together like captive sea lions whose zookeeper has arrived with a bucket of fish,” he wrote in his column “Theater Talkback: Against Ovation Inflation.” His argument, snarky as it is, ends with noting that “staying seated has become the exceptional tribute.”

London, England’s theater critics mince no pies about who is to blame for this moral deterioration (Broadway—a notable scapegoat for moral deterioration). They make Brantley look p.c. in their direct seat-shaming over the normalizing of the “s.o.”—a “curse,” as critic Michael Henderson noted in The Telegraph, and “an unwanted tradition spreading from America,” as if the s.o. is an STD (socially transmitted disease). Michael Billington, a British critic from The Guardian, likewise points his blame finger across the pond: “I am all for spontaneous enthusiasm but the standing ovation is a filthy American habit that I think should be discouraged.”

Henderson explains that Britons, proud of their ability to curb the need to overly-reward actors, reputedly did not stand for Laurence Olivier, except upon the notification of his death in 1989, which Dustin Hoffman delivered to an audience in attendance of The Merchant of Venice. At this point, Hoffman muttered that the only way to get a standing ovation in England was “to f—ing die.” Henderson, whose article “The Curse of the Standing Ovation,” claims “it is … a gesture of self-reward … this canker in our theatre-going is also rooted in a narcissism that has spread through all parts of life. …Me, me, me. It’s all about me.” Sitting still, sitting quietly, he concludes, reflect the “old virtues,” a time before all this “blubbing and cheering, like stroppy teenagers.”

For Billington, the infection of the American need to present the s.o. to everything evokes probing issues of identity. “What’s come over us?” he asks in his 2008 theater blog “The Standing Ovation is a Filthy American Habit.” “Is it a result of rising ticket prices, the touchy-feely society in which emotions have to be displayed, or simply a product of a show-off culture in which you have to prove you can ovate more noisily than your neighbour? The argument against the standing ovation is simple. If you do it for virtually everything, it soon becomes valueless.”

The Brits are great at a cutting remark, but former St. Paul critic Dominic Papatola once quipped that “Minnesotans would give a standing ovation to a Schwan’s truck.” Ouch. We hope the beloved audiences in MN aren’t bleeders. Later, though, Papatola came clean about his feelings as he aged and had a little perspective. In the Duluth News Tribune, he said “now it’s not one of those things I can really let myself get worked up about . . . Mainly I am grateful that there are people in the audience at all.”

Mostly likely, we’re in an evolution of response. We don’t snap like the old Greco-Roman or Beat days. Maybe the standing ovation is returning to its Roman origins and is acknowledgement of a job well done, a hearty thank-you for participating in something not many others do.

If so, sitting for the performers at the curtain becomes what? A triumph?