The standing ovation has come to signify nothing.

Elysha and I attended a play last night. I won’t mention the name because it wasn’t good, and I don’t want to publicly denigrate the effort and art of the people involved.

I’ll leave that to the theater critics.

Instead, I’d like to denigrate the audience.

At the end of this tragically bad, objectively bad play, nearly the entire audience rose to their feet for a standing ovation. It was immediate, rousing, and loud.

It was also ridiculous. Undeserved. Nonsensical. And this wasn’t the first time I have witnessed this bizarre behavior. Standing ovations were once reserved for work of outstanding quality. The best of the best.

Now they have become fairly standard at a performance. Almost an expectation.

Elysha, who also found this standing ovation ridiculous, thinks it’s the result of people who want to make others feel good about their effort. To refuse the standing ovation would be cruel to the performers.

She might be right. In this world of participation trophies and everyone feeling good, maybe the standing ovation has become the theater’s version of the white ribbon.

Congratulations. You stood on a stage and tried hard. Let us make you feel good.

I argued that it might also be the result of people who are so desperate to stand in the presence of greatness that they are using the standing ovation in order to will things like this terrible play to undeserved heights. No one wants to announce to the world on Instagram or Facebook that they just wasted 83 minutes of their lives on a terrible performance, so why not turn it into something great, thus making them seem smart and savvy in the process.

Whatever the reason, it must stop. I saw Hamilton a few months ago. That performance deserved a standing ovation. It was the best thing I’d ever seen.

I saw Rent a couple weeks ago. The play itself deserved a standing ovation, though the performances did not. Perhaps I’m spoiled by having seen the original cast of the musical in New York in the 1990’s several times, but the recent rendition of the show just isn’t as good, and some of the songs are sung at lower keys to accommodate the singer’s limited range.

I rose to my feet that night, not in recognition of the performances but in recognition of the writing.

Last night’s play did not deserve a standing ovation. The writing was bad, and the performances were bad. Even the sound design and sets were bad. Enthusiastic applause in recognition of the company’s effort would’ve been more than enough. Generous, even. But a standing applause?

That audience looked ridiculous.

As they leapt to their feet, I remained seated. After a few moments, I rose, too, but I started putting on my jacket as I stood, avoiding an additional clapping.

I wasn’t standing because I loved the performance. I was standing so I could exit the theater as quickly as possible.

I reserve my standing ovations for greatness. You should, too.

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