To boo or not to boo

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A few weeks ago, I read an article about a performance of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (William Tell) at the Royal Opera House (ROH) in London. The production sparked controversy for depicting a brutal rape scene. The audience was not pleased. The scene provoked “the noisiest and most sustained booing I can ever recall during any performance at this address”.… said George Hall of The Stage in his review.

Boooooooooooooooooo! Hisssssssssssssssssssss! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

These days, you don’t hear boos at a performance very often. Just the opposite, particularly in Broadway and even Off-Broadway houses, audience members are on their feet with a standing O – just because – rendering that ultimate form of approval worthless. I’m not sure if that’s from ignorance or the sky-rocketing cost of tickets. Who wants to admit they saw a $400 bomb?

But the practice of audience opinion expression has a long history in entertainment.

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To boo is not new

According to Slate, in Ancient Greece audience participation was regarded as a civic duty: Applause equaled approval, whereas shouts, whistles, or the throwing of food or garbage meant the opposite.

Similarly in Ancient Rome, jeering was common at gladiatorial games. Audience participation could determine whether a competitor lived or died. Maybe we could use a version of this at the theater.

If Elizabethan audiences didn’t like a performance, groundlings would shout insults, heckle the performers or echo the Greek’ methods by throwing food and empty bottles at the actors.

Self-described booing expert Charles Welch claims in his Official Rules of Booing, “Booing is an inalienable right, a natural right, and considered to be self-evident and universal.”  That’s the sports world chiming in. Booing there is de rigueur. Why wouldn’t you boo?

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The high boo

As for ROH’s Guillaume Tell, director of opera Kasper Holten summed up opening night this way: “…you get a chance to boo the production team at the end, there’s no need to do it while the music is playing… I don’t mind booing, to express your opinion is fine but save it until the music is over.”

Perhaps because opera aficionados are more knowledgeable about the material and more monetarily invested in the productions, they are the most negatively vocal of the lot. Who could be more passionate than Wagner’s Ring Nuts?

The to-boo-or-not-to-boo debate goes on. From the ROH to La Scala, it’s a divided universe. And some argue for a widespread return to booing at the theater.

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A boo or a boo-hoo

We’ve all been to a play, an opera, a sporting event, a political gathering or a place where what we heard or saw was not to our pleasure. I say boo – if you like. You paid for your ticket, you get an opinion. But don’t be surprised by the response you get from non-booers. They have an opinion too.

So the question is: How do you respond at an event if you are not happy with the performance?

 

Background images: From Shakespeare in Love, © Miramax / Woodcut is in public domain.

4 Responses to “To boo or not to boo”

  1. Steve Says:

    You know I’m all about the booing. I only stayed until the end of “The Capeman” just for that purpose.

  2. Janet Giampietro Says:

    No surprise there.

    Thanks for the comment.
    janetg

  3. William R. Says:

    Hello the curious g,

    I don’t understand how anyone can boo a production, sporting event etc. If the opera or play is poorly written or badly conceived, it’s not the performers fault. Even if the actors, singers, athletes are unimpressive, sometimes doing nothing is better than being, I think, very rude and booing.

    Just my .02, but I wouldn’t, couldn’t boo.

    Kindly,
    WR

  4. Janet Giampietro Says:

    Hi William:

    Thank you for your comment. I’m with you, in part. An event would have to be drastic for me to consider booing, but ticket-buying audience members have the right to express their opinion as they see fit.

    Best,
    janetg

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