Stupid Tuesday questions, Boston NPR edition

This morning’s Stupid Tuesday question was lifted straight from my morning drive.  There was a segment about whether or not it is acceptable to leave a performance at intermission if you’re not having a good time.  Those who object to the practice apparently do so out of deference for the performers’ feelings, which are hurt as they look out from the stage and see all the newly-empty seats.

To my mind, this is a ridiculously stupid question.  So stupid, in fact, I can’t believe they thought it worth asking, much less debating (if playfully) during a radio segment.  As much as I would hate to hurt anyone’s feelings, preventing this potential outcome is worth far less to me than an hour or more of my time.  If I’m not enjoying myself, I’m gone.  In fact, sitting through a performance one is not enjoying is my favorite example of the sunk costs fallacy.

I can only remember one instance of actually doing so, however.  (I’ve left a few movies midway through [confidential to RW: sorry about that one time], but it seems that’s a different question, since nobody on screen can see you leave and feel bad about it.)  I was seated way up high in the balcony at Lincoln Center, so I’m pretty sure nobody could tell if I was there or not.  However, I would have left anyway.  I am sad to report it was a performance of a gay men’s chorus in New York City, which I found kind of hackneyed and twee.  As I told a good friend when I met up with her later that evening, “It was like being slowly roasted over a low, gay flame.”  Not my cuppa.

So, this week’s question — is it just that I have a cold, dark tar heart?  Does my callous disregard for the feelings of performers, desperately hoofing it for my withheld approval, simply evince my underlying misanthropy? Or is it OK to leave at intermission if you’re not enjoying the performance?  And if so, have you done it, and why?

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. Maribou and I went to a show that was being put on by the local college that was a show about poetry about Albert Einstein set to the music of Mozart.

    I made some jokes about wanting to learn how to say “I don’t care, if it doesn’t rhyme, it’s not poetry” in French as part of the buildup to the show but no… it was worse than that. The poetry did, in fact, rhyme. ABAB and ABCB rhymes. 8, 12, 16 lines of poetry followed by 8, 12, 16 bars of music.

    At intermission, Maribou asked me if I wanted to go home. “Please god, yes”, I told her.

    • That sounds horrific. I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

      • Then Meliva said to Albert,
        “For our home you must now work!
        So go to the pate tent office quick
        And request to be a clerk!”

        Yeah, I’d have chewed my arm off to get out of that.

      • I was lucky to have had husband points to spare.

        (Though it would have been worth going into debt.)

    • I think this would have been magnificent. I might have burst into maniacal laughter at random points for a month, instilling quizzical gazes and perhaps the occasional tucking of a small child behind a frozen-smiled parent.

    • Jaybird, sincere apologies for my harsh words re Taoist quips and Qwai Chang Cainisms. Uncalled for and very discourteous.

      By all means, DO keep us laughing!

      • Dr. Saunders, I honestly forgot I was on your thread when I just submitted comments to Jaybird–sorry about that. I shall be more conscientious about knowing where I am around here.

        Apologies, H/AIP.

  2. Dr. Saunders, I had totally forgotten about that! How could you? (redux)

    Anyhow, I don’t see how we ever owe anyone explicit or implicit praise for substandard work. Even if feelings are at stake.

    I take the contract between audience member and performer to be this: the audience member owes the price of admission plus behavior consistent with allowing other audience members to take in properly the performance. That is all. The performer owes the audience an effortful performance. The audience member is not obligated to stay there, applaud, standing ovate, etc.

    Is it not helpful to a performer to know actually how their work is perceived?

      • A young doctor and his best friend decide they would like to see a movie. The young doctor, having heard good buzz or read some good review or due to some other influence lost in the mists of time, suggests “Fight Club.” The young woman agrees. As an added plus, she is on assignment from a local publication to write a film review of a recent release, and this will serve that purpose nicely.

        Sadly, the young doctor hates “Fight Club.” Hates it. It makes him want to kick David Fincher in the shins. Somewhere midway through the film, the young doctor decides that the sheets of rage shimmering before his eyes are making it impossible to enjoy the film, turns to his friend and says “I’m sorry, but I hate this film and am leaving” (or words to that effect), and promptly departs. More sadly still, the young woman has to sit and watch the remainder of the film (which, you’ll remember, she is only watching in the first place at the young doctor’s suggestion) by herself, as she has a review that she now must submit.

        Tragically, this event causes an unbearable rift in their friendship, and they never speak again.

          • I found its preening, self-congratulatory misanthropy intensely unpleasant.

            I know that lots and lots and lots of people really liked it, and it has become part of our cultural tapestry. Enough people whose opinions I respect like it, so I’m even willing to concede that I should like it, and my inability to enjoy it is a flaw on my part. But I found it cruel, overly impressed with itself, and ugly.

          • > But I found it cruel, overly impressed with
            > itself, and ugly.

            These are all fair indictments.

            > I’m even willing to concede that I should
            > like it, and my inability to enjoy it is a
            > flaw on my part.

            I would say rather that those who find themselves beset by cruelty and ugliness who choose to like it as escapism are well within the bounds of humanity. Those who find themselves best by cruelty and ugliness who choose to like it as advice might benefit from some therapy.

            If you don’t need the escapism and you’re not angry and repressed, I don’t think there’s any need for you to like it.

            Fight Club is like young thrash metal. Not in the “I’m listening to this on the radio because I feel angry and angsty” sense but the “I’m trying to beat the snot out of this other guy in the mosh pit because this music IS ME” sense.

          • Doc, if it’s any consolation I hated Fight Club with every fiber of my being. I actually hated it so much that I went out and got the book just so I could read it and see if the movie makers had mangled it. They hadn’t (not particularily) so I then took enormous (and abnormal) pleasure in destroying my copy of the tome.

            The line from the movie that did it for me was when Brad Pitt was fantasizing about civilization being broken and how awsome it’d be climbing these ruined sky scrapers, surveying the terrain, smelling the venison his women were cooking in the camp below. I thought to myself “Oh I’m sure a young buck like you’d be loving it dude but those poor enslaved ladies in the camp below probably wouldn’t be so delighted.” Just thinking about it makes my blood pressure rise a tch.

          • As soon as the cancer support group scene started and I realized they were playing it for laughs, I thought to myself “Oh, dear. I am going to hate this movie.”

          • I definitely hated it at parts, but I think you’re supposed to. That’s what makes it interesting. Although, without spoiling anything, I thought the “ending” was just about the stupidest thing ever. I greatly enjoyed the whole commentary on consumer society and masculinity though.

          • Check out this apostasy.

            The good doctor’s words, to a word, describe how I feel about the few episodes of The Wire I’ve been able to get through. Granted, if that’s all I’ve been able get through, I haven’t really given it a chance to get its hooks in me. And I’m more than willing to concede that I should like it: I’m pretty damn sure I should.

            But those are my exact feelings about it nonetheless.

  3. Interesting way to phrase this week’s question. I’m unsure; am I responding about whether or not it’s OK to leave a performance early, or whether or not you have a cold black heart?

    I think it is absolutely OK to lead a performance early, so long as your leaving does not interrupt the experience of those watching. Therefore, intermission (or as I like to call it, halftime) is perfect. Sitting through a bad performance helps no one. If it’s just you, the performers won’t really notice. If it’s scores of people, they probably need to hear that message. (On a related note, if I may send a message to people that go to live performances in general: Please stop giving a standing ovation to every single live performance of anything anywhere. It really is starting to mean very little.)

    Now, regarding the cold, black heart… That seems doubtful. But let’s us and the significant others have drinks in Vegas; then I’ll know for sure. Cold, black hearts always come out over drinks.

    • My ability to attend the shindig in Vegas (which I desperately want to attend) is contingent on events that have yet to transpire, and which do not (yet) lend themselves to public comment.

      I really hope I can make it.

      • My zero probability has jumped to 65% due to a number of confluating factorisms.

        If we try hard enough, maybe we can get a probability feedback cycle going and we’ll both show up.

    • But giving standing ovations is how you get a free encore.

  4. I think the okayness of leaving simply because one doesn’t like the performance depends partially on how big the audience is and on how “professional” the performance is meant to be. If the audience is 10 or 20 people, and the performers are amateurs, then taking their feelings into consideration might be important.

    I sometimes go to academic “seminars,” which are meetings, usually around 2 hours, where someone presents a pre-circulated paper, and I think leaving in the middle of that (alas, there’s usually no intermission provided) can be rude, especially when it’s a junior scholar who is presenting a first or second paper. (In such cases, if I know in advance I’ll have to leave early, I’ll usually try to tell him or her, before the seminar, that I’ll have to leave for x reason.)

    I used to go to open-mic poetry readings and tried to observe a self-imposed rule never to walk out while a poet was performing (it was at a bar/restaurant/cafe/community place, so when I “walked out” I might just get a drink and walk back in a while later). As a (at the time) open mic’er myself, I knew it could be disconcerting to see people leave when one performs. However, one time I saw a “poet” get up and perform about how good it was to kill prostitutes and how much he hated them (I hope he was just a teenager mouthing off insipidities and not a sociopath). At that time, I got up and left, and I’m glad I did.

    • I should have stipulated that the question pertains to professional performers and/or big venues. I’ve sat through some truly god-awful performances because the venue was small, it was an amateur production, and many of the performers were friends or family members.

  5. Fortunately, I haven’t had to make a decision about this in a live performance for a long, long time. I would have walked out of a performance of Seven Guitars which had become dreadfully dull and which seriously fumbled the mercy fuck scene, but I was there with my then-employer who seemed to be enjoying himself so I stayed through it for political reasons.

    I have walked out of very, very bad movies and not felt the least bit of guilt for so doing. I’ve never demanded my money back, though — my attitude about that is, you pays your money, you takes your chances.

    But related: obligatory standing ovations.

    I get to see live theater two or three times in a good year, and I count myself fortunate to see that much. Sometimes the performance is a run of a Broadway piece, sometimes it is a little bit more low key. But after every performance, whether it’s at the local community performing arts center or at a 3,000 seat stage of national renown, the audience stands up, front row first and then moving back like they’re doing The Wave at a sporting event. Cheers, whistles, etc.

    I thought a standing ovation was reserved for something particularly good. Or has this become the new standard for an audience to thank a cast and crew for providing entertainment? Either you walk out at intermission or you stay to the end and demand an encore: no middle ground.

  6. I’ve never walked out of a performance, but I think this has to do more with me being very easily amused. Even if something is aesthetically very poor, I can usually muster up some sociological interest in it. (Both the gay chorus and Einstein/Mozart mash-up mentioned upthread sound very interesting.) In a worst-case scenario, I can people watch.

    However – and I’m pretty sure this was the topic of a previous Stupid Tuesday – I have turned off movies, such as Public Enemies, The Isle of Dr. Moreau, and Super Mario Brothers because I was bored or disgusted.

  7. I’ve left any number of concerts at intermission, due to fatigue, illness, or disinterest on the part of either myself or my companion(s). I’ve never felt even a twinge of guilt about it (only disappointment in those cases where the departure was imposed on me by someone else).

    I suppose if I were in a very small audience such that my absence would be very noticeable, I’d give it a second thought, but if I did stay, I’d consider it an act of charity, not due to any sense of responsibility.

  8. Robert Fripp says the audience is as much a part of the performance as the artist. If the audience doesn’t get it, is there really a performance going on?

    Of course, Fripp has plenty to say about Old Chestnuts. If that chorale was handing out Old Chestnuts, roasted over the low gay flame and you weren’t Inspired, you can bet those choristers weren’t Inspired either.

    I’m sick of about half the songs I can play. They were tiresome long before I finished learning all the chords. I’ve played in enough bands to know what most people want to hear and most of it is horrible, just horrible. But there’s nothing like Free Bird to keep the beer taps pulled forward.

    • I will consider my life to be complete if you and Tom do a “Free Bird” duet at some point before I take the Long Walk.

      • In a moment of spite, I once started out that tune in G minor. It takes on a perverse goth majesty once that E minor gets flatted out.

        • In college, a friend ran the “o-dark-thirty” classical show on KXLU, the on-campus radio station. One night, she decided to call for requests.

          Nobody called, not exactly surprising for the o-dark-thirty classical show on a Friday night. So she played Bolero.

          And then again. And again. And threatened to play Bolero until someone called in with a request.

          Then she got the second turntable going, and started scratching over Bolero and remixing it, which is where my listening on the radio came in.

          I have never forgiven myself for not calling her in the station and saying, “Hey… I have a request. Play BOLERO!”

  9. Yeah, this is ridiculous. Except in extraordinary cases, I think you have a mild obligation to wait for intermission if it exists (if not, not), but then you’re a free bird.

  10. I almost walked out of a performance of Prelude To A Kiss once. But I was a member of the cast,so I dided to stick around for the end.

    • I have had similar experiences. I’m sitting backstage wishing they had left me out of the program.

  11. As a woman with a background in performing arts, I say leave if you are not pleased. I wouldn’t because I never want to miss anything and I’m an eternal optimist. I just keep hoping there will be a redeaming moment. If you want to send a clear message about your take on the performance your attendance is the only true measure.

  12. A few days late, but nevertheless. I think that an actor places him/herself in the same place as an author or any other artist. And per Dr. Samuel Johnson:

    “He that writes [acts] may be considered as a kind of general challenger, whom every one has a right to attack; since he quits the common rank of life, steps forward beyond the lists, and offers his merit to the public judgement. To commence author [acting] is to claim praise, and no man can justly aspire to honour, but at the hazard of disgrace.”

    In other words, if your feelings are going to be hurt because someone leaves your performance at the intermission, then you should under no circumstances become an actor, because to act in public is to invite disapproval, as well as praise.

    (JGN of the cold, dark tar, but pragmatic, heart)

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