Polly Armhand – Standing Ovations

This month’s letter comes from Polly Armhand of West Turkey, America. Polly writes:

Dear Derwood,

I recently attended the theatre to see a show. It was terrible. The storyline lacked flow, the character development was non-existent and the lead actor was hardly believable. I could not wait for the whole disgraceful circus to end but upon its completion I was horrified to see the audience standing! Naturally, thinking people’s chairs were spontaneously catching fire, I stood too but was shocked to discover these people were standing to show appreciation! For what, I do not know as in my opinion Duncan Primary grade one students should be ashamed. You call that ‘The Cat In The Hat’!? More like ‘The Crap In The Crap’! In my opinion Professor Zeus, or whatever his name is, would be appalled if he wasn’t so dead.

So my question is this: what is correct etiquette when it comes to standing ovations? If everyone else stands, am I obliged to follow suit?

Kind regards,

Polly Armhand.


Dear Polly,

Yes, an awkward dilemma. Interestingly standing ovations originated as a means of insulting people confined to wheelchairs. Over time the practice has changed somewhat but the uncomfortable decision remains – to stay seated and express yourself perfectly adequately through applause, or stand and potentially make a terrible performer think they are the opposite of inept. Ept, I guess.

To answer your question, no, you are not required to stand but keep in mind that remaining seated in the midst of a standing ovation will often draw more attention to yourself than desired.

If you wish to avoid judging eyes, I say stand, keeping in mind that standing brings you one step closer to exiting the venue. Also, remind yourself that the instigators of standing ovations are generally self-important buttholes. If it helps, imagine you are standing and applauding in recognition of this.

In the odd situation that you actually wish to stand of your own free will, offer fellow audience members the courtesy of doing something no other human will feel obliged to duplicate should they not want to. Perhaps some shouted racial abuse may be in order, or some wild threats towards the elderly.

Whatever you do, remember that 96% of people in a standing ovation are doing so out of obligation. Try to lock eyes with someone else who finds it ridiculous and you will find yourself a new friend. And really, isn’t that what the theatre is all about? No.

Your pal,