The Audience Seemed To Enjoy It

Occasionally there has been discussion about how the standing ovation has become the default response at the end of a performance.

Not long ago, Seth Godin made a short post about expectation and delight.   He notes that when expectations are too low, there is no opportunity to even connect successfully whereas when they are too high, the sense of delight at an experience disappears.  He posits that the more successful you are, the more difficult it is to reach that point of delight because expectations are so high.

It almost sounds like advocacy for calculated mediocrity. But his next observation suggests that feedback like standing ovations make it difficult to determine if you are actually delighting audiences or not.

Often, this is replaced by the cognitive dissonance of sunk costs and luxury goods. People assert delight because they think they’re supposed to, because they don’t want to feel stupid–not because you’ve produced anything genuine.

This is a problematic element of group dynamics. You don’t want to be the only one sitting down when everyone else is up clapping, so you get up too even if you aren’t sure you enjoyed the experience. Others that are also feeling a little neutral about the experience are left to wonder what they missed that everyone else got and rise to their feet slightly bewildered. And so on and so on.

The artists are left thinking they did better they thought or at least the audience didn’t catch on to the flaws.

The folks who felt their experience was a little “meh” are likely inclined not to return and the venue administration don’t quite know why this is because these folks don’t feel anything strongly enough to fill out surveys. And after all, there was a standing ovation.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


1 thought on “The Audience Seemed To Enjoy It”

  1. It is good to hear that the standing ovation for meh performances is common—I thought it was a property of uncritical local audiences. My wife and I use our own judgement in deciding when to do a standing ovation—maybe one performance in 20 or 30 justifies that.


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