When To Belt Out In Song And Not Belt The Person Sitting Behind You

By now most people have probably heard about the brawl between audience members at a Manchester, England performance of The Bodyguard because people were singing along to “I Will Always Love You.”  The more I read, the more I wonder if maybe opening the bars at the theater 1.5 hours before curtain might be as big a contributor as people having poor etiquette.

Assuming many have read their fill about the incident, I wanted to point to a different article in the Toronto Star which interviewed ushers at performances in that city about audience behavior. While they say they have also seen their share of rude behavior and vain attempts to keep people from singing along with shows, the ushers point to examples of productions leaning into the trend:

One way some producers have been able to satisfy audience’s cravings to turn the theatre into an enormous karaoke bar is to end the shows with a big medley — a so-called Megamix. The recent “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” tour in Toronto used that, and wannabe Broadway singers got to belt out the songs with the cast and record themselves doing it on their phones.

Aislinn Rose [artistic director of Toronto’s not-for-profit Theatre Centre] believes theatres could go even further and designate certain performances as sing-along shows

“I’m not advocating for every performance to look like that, but there’s an opportunity to build an incredibly loyal, live following of people who want to engage with live performance. I think we should find a way to support that.”

Apparently there was a time when some Toronto based productions were trying to get audiences to sing-a-long, and couldn’t so maybe there is an element of be careful what you wish for here.

Ironically, Mirvish Productions programmed sing-along performances for their production of the Queen jukebox musical “We Will Rock You” way back in 2008-2009. It didn’t catch on.

“We printed out lyric sheets and everything,” said Karastamatis. “But very few people sang along.”

But as the article suggests at the end, you generally don’t plan to spend a lot of money on a ticket to listen to the people next to you sing off-key. So unless you are doing a show like Rocky Horror which has a long tradition of audience participation,  having designated times or performances where people can sing along is probably going to be the best approach in the short term.

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 (artshacker.com) 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. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

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.


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