How do you feel about pre-show announcements at the theater? Do you like a live person standing up there in front of you? Or prefer a recorded announcement? Is it better to have a real human being from the organization on stage pitching the season and asking you to subscribe or join the mailing list? Or better to let a recorded voice do the chore?
So many plays. So many pre-show announcements.
In our current production of Bakersfield Mist, the pre-show announcement is handled in a clever way (warning: spoiler alert). As the audience comes in and takes their seats, they’re listening to a Bakersfield “radio station” through the house speakers, complete with “Bakersfield Sound” country music, local news and a dee-jay. When the house lights dim and the play is about to start, the dee-jay says over the “radio” … and to all you folks seein’ that new play over at the Fountain Theatre, the folks at the Fountain have asked me to tell ya to turn off your cell phones … Kinda cute. It gets a laugh.
There are the usual pre-theater announcements: Turn off your cellphones. No photos allowed. If you’re going to eat candy, unwrap it now (why does that request always get a laugh from the audience?) And now, of course, we are also told no texting and no tweeting during the performance. When did that happen? And this one is a no-brainer: in case of an emergency, please locate the nearest exit. What are we, idiots?
Back to this live person versus recorded voice question. Which do you prefer?
A recorded voice is not personal. No human connection. But it gets the job done easily and efficiently. No mess, no fuss.
There can be something warm and fuzzy about seeing an actual human being deliver the rules before curtain. But do we really need to see another poor disheveled House Manager or an exhausted Artistic Director standing up there on stage — where the magic is supposed to happen — hawking the upcoming season and urging us to renew our subscription? And sometimes these people go on and on, or try to be too friendly or too funny.
Plays require the suspension of disbelief in ways that almost no other kind of art experience does. Pre-show lectures and sales pitches don’t do much to preserve the magic. They take us out of the moment of expectation and anticipation and distract us from the dream we’re about to enter. And there can be a more sinister motive by theater producers: the misguided belief that an audience is there to be pitched to. Don’t let another sales opportunity get away. I mean, we already bought our ticket. Can’t they just leave us alone?
Pre-show announcements during previews can be particularly painful and awkward. We’re often warned that it’s a preview. Like we’re about to taste a cake that isn’t quite done yet. Or go out on a date with a cousin’s sister: we might have a good time but there are no guarantees. Who can enjoy a show that needs a disclaimer?
Pre-show announcements may be necessary evils. Like when the doctor tells us this isn’t going to hurt a bit. Pre-curtain speeches are like selling a used car: the less you say, the better. Less is more. Unlike sex, faster is better.
What’s your best — or worst — experience with pre-show announcements? Any pet peeves? Which theater(s) do it right? Which don’t? Anything you wish they’d say?
And what is your vote: live person or recording?