DEAR MISS MANNERS: Growing up, I was blessed to have the good fortune of attending many live performances of different kinds of theater and music. My parents taught me about appropriate behavior for these events, like waiting until the end of a piece to applaud, or bringing cough drops with wrappers that don’t crinkle.
They also taught me that standing ovations are reserved for truly exceptional performances (which I have happily participated in on several occasions). For most concerts, I remain in my seat, giving hearty applause in gratitude for the performers’ efforts.
What should I do, then, in instances that I don’t think warrant standing ovations? I recently went to a business training in which the keynote speaker was given a standing ovation. She was a gifted speaker, but not extraordinary. Everyone in the room leaped to their feet in applause. I noticed I was one of the few people in the room still sitting. I felt like remaining seated was calling attention to myself and was attracting glares from others – as if my sitting was somehow declaring her training subpar. Thus, I stood too.
So should I stand with the crowd, regardless of how I feel about a performance, or should I reserve my acclaim for what I find truly noteworthy? And where do children’s recitals fall into this?
GENTLE READER: To answer your last question first: They don’t. Contrary to human experience, children’s recitals and other amateur performances are considered social events because no one attends unless a personal relationship exists with someone involved. Unbridled enthusiasm is therefore expected.
Professional entertainment is in an entirely different category. Unless you are there as a guest (in which case, “Darling, you were marvelous!” is mandatory), you are a paying customer, entitled to an opinion.
Miss Manners would consider that applauding lightly while remaining seated would express the positive, but not thrilled, reaction that you described.