Commentary: When is a Standing Ovation Warranted?

Standing ovations are considered the greatest form of admiration after an extraordinary performance. These days, however, the audiences often stand up during the curtain call.

What does this mean as an ultimate gesture of respect? Is every performance or performer worthy of this honor just because they are on stage?

The theater community has argued about this celebration of individuals or a cast. Obviously, it is a great deal of pride. But is it special now given its frequency?

Sometimes, a performance will garner a small group who stand or a few rows, or the entire audience.

Its overuse lessens the honor. The pro standing o crowd doesn’t want anyone left out while those opposed think it should matter only under extraordinary circumstances.

The following are my guidelines on when to stand and when to stay seated:

  1. Children’s plays should always receive a standing ovation. It’s important to let the children know that no matter what, you are so proud of their courage to perform.
  2. High School plays should usually receive a standing ovation — unless it was so terrible you contemplated self-harm. Give the teens a confidence bump.
  3. You should be much more selective about college and professional productions. The actors performing are trained professionals or are expecting this to be a career for them. They should be held to a higher standard. Think of it like this, when you’re at work, do you feel that everyone should receive a bonus just for showing up for work? Or should only the employees that go above and beyond get the bonus?
  4. Community theater is thornier. The actors are amateurs who are passionate about theater. But because they are not professionally trained, in most cases, they do it as a labor of love., is the community theater. Personal discretion comes into play – A for effort or was it really outstanding.

As an actor, director, and producer of a small community theatre, I consider a standing ovation a great honor, but not a given. We don’t earn it all the time, nor do we automatically get it.

In the seven years I have been with my current company, Open House Theatre, four of our productions – out of almost 30 –were given a standing ovation.

We perform in a small town, New Athens, Ill.,  We take great pride in what we do, so if we come out at curtain call and see the audience rise to their feet, we are very honored. We feel we have achieved a level of excellence that we strived for, but don’t always meet.

Before you stand after a production, do you take a moment to evaluate whether it’s warranted? Or do you go along with it to be polite?

Do you remain sitting even when everyone around you is standing, cheering and clapping?

Do you regulate your level of applause to match your opinion? Or, are you one of those people who cut out before applauding?

How comfortable are you when nobody stands, but you wanted to and didn’t because no one else stood?

Is there a level that we should praise a company for a job well done, or does it matter anyway?

We would like your thoughts on this subject. If you are a theater-goer, how do you evaluate to determine your response?

If you are a performer, how do you feel when you receive one?

We would love to hear from you and how you feel about standing ovations.

Please use the comment section below or visit our Facebook page and share your thoughts.

Thank you for expressing yourself on this matter.

One Reply to “Commentary: When is a Standing Ovation Warranted?”

  1. Since my main expertise is in working with young people, I am going to focus on responding to the first two points. I have taught and directed children between the ages of 8 and 17 for the past 30 years and have some (admittedly) strong opinions about how it should and should not be done. I think that giving a children’s performance a standing ovation just because it exists, is disrespectful to the students and dishonest to the director and/or the producing organization. It assumes that there is no qualitative difference among performances (even of shows in the same run) and does not encourage any self examination (learning) among the performers or even the parents. “Why was one performance better than the others?” “How do we improve and make ALL of the performances this good?” And let me tell you, kids KNOW when a show falls flat, and they know when it was transcendent (ie “really good”). When we in effect lie to children and tell them that everything was great, they stop reaching to do better. AND when they get to high school (or college) they don’t understand why they still have to study–after all, they got all those standing ovations didn’t they? Children are not that delicate–they may feel a little disappointed in the moment, but if you are honest with them, and guide them to do better they will trust you and will have tremendous pride and ownership in their work. They will not have to depend on a standing ovation to validate their worth or their work.
    And as far as community or professional work–stand up if you feel like it. If you don’t feel like it–remain seated.

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