Song of Surrender

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Self regulation is the need of the hour

By Seetha Ratnakar


The New York Philharmonic Orchestra presents a free concert at the great lawn in the Central Park, New York which attracts more than 10,000 spectators annually. I had the opportunity to attend their concerts two years in a row and I was astounded by the behavior of the audience. Most of the people reached a couple of hours before the show to secure a good place. While they waited, they spread out tarpaulins and tablecloths and arranged an array of snacks and drinks to enjoy with family and friends. All around me I heard happy conversations and laughter and watched photo sessions in progress. I did not see any police or ushers and it looked like one big picnic spot. When the musicians came on stage to take their places a quiet hush fell across the multitude. The transformation was amazing. The audience enjoyed the outstanding concert in respectful silence breaking it only to applaud at the end of each segment. There were no distractions or disturbances through the entire show. If people arrived late, they were most unobtrusive. There was not a single discordant sound of cell phone or conversation. There was just great music and a disciplined audience who thoroughly enjoyed every nuance. At the end of the show the people cleared the trash and deposited it in trash cans and left the park as clean as before. There were no announcements or reminders. The social awareness and behavior of the audience seemed to stem from self- regulation.


The experience came quite as a shock to me as I was under the impression that I come from a country steeped in culture and therefore I have more respect for the arts than my Western counterpart.  My misconception made me look at audiences anew when I attended cultural shows in Chennai--my city. I was sadly disappointed to notice that we, as an audience, are rather lackadaisical in our attitude. While we are genuinely appreciative of the art itself, we lack sensitivity when it comes to respecting the artists and the audiences during performances. It is a common sight to see people arrive late and walk nonchalantly in front of the people seated or leave in the middle of a performance. The mobile phone will surely ring sometime, somewhere and we are forced to listen to muffled conversations and even loud comments and instructions. An announcement is made at every concert, every play and every movie to remind us to keep our phones on silent mode, and yet we forget to silence them. I remember attending a play in which Jaya Bachhan played the lead role and during the intense climax scene a mobile phone rang and she became visibly upset. In an interview later, she mentioned that she missed the punchline because of the disturbance. It is frustrating for artists as  all their hard work and rehearsing gets nullified by such a single transgression.

The ultimate disruption is caused by the media and it is more so at award and release functions. Media persons spring out of nowhere and block the view of the audience entirely to take those 'timely' pictures and videos as they obliterate the view for the audience which has taken the trouble to attend the show.  The photographers are impervious to the anger and disappointment of family and friends who travel long distances to watch the proceedings and share the experience.

As organisations in the city are gearing up for the Chennai music and dance season this may be a good a time for us to rekindle our thoughts on how to be a more responsible audience. By and large, we are culturally aware and evolved human beings but when even one person flouts norms it can disrupt the whole show. A collective effort by each one of us to make it a habit of silencing cell phones and keeping the auditorium and washrooms clean will go a long way in showing respect and consideration to artists and fellow audiences. Organisers can help by providing designated places for videographers and photographers and invite them to take group photos after the audience witness the proceedings. We are the fortunate beneficiaries of an amazing cultural heritage, and we, the audience also have a part to play in keeping these great traditions alive. Chennai has been included in the list of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network of the world and it is our moral responsibility to keep the creative beacon shining in splendour without a blemish.

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