I belong to a service called “Theater Extras.” You pay a yearly membership fee of $95.00 and you are then eligible for two free event tickets. Well, there is a $4.00 processing fee, but almost free, especially considering how little you can buy with $4.00, so it’s as good as free. There is the occasional Broadway show (and attending one show essentially pays for the membership fee), quite a few Off Broadway shows, opera, concerts with famous and not-so-famous orchestras, a crap load of cabaret shows that I am just never, ever going to attend (I mean really, who wants to see yet another gay man sing the songs of Judy Garland?) and every once in a while a popular artist concert. I even went to a Martina McBride concert at Jones Beach last summer, and I have no idea whatsoever who Martina McBride is. But it was $4.00 and it was at a fabulous outdoor amphitheatre overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on gorgeous summer night. What the hell, right?
My friend Donna Coney Island (no, that is not her maiden or married name, but it is her name nevertheless) got me to join back in October of 2006 in an effort to secure tickets to Barbra Streisand’s appearance that year at Madison Square Garden. Apparently when Babs decided to take herself on tour again and set her prices in the stratosphere, she failed to consider that most people didn’t want to see her badly enough to pay $600 for a seat on the 17th floor in the way-back of a giant arena. Nor did she consider that most of the concert-ticket-buying public have no clue who she is. They were looking for Shakira or The Killers – not a sixty-something warbler from a bygone era. Sure enough, she failed to sell out The Garden, and Theater Extras had Barbra Streisand tickets. They were going to put them up at an appointed hour, and Donna figured that if both of us were members we would double our chances of getting tickets. And sure enough, we got’em! We were about three rows up on the first ring, only about halfway back in the arena. They were really amazing seats, and they were four dollars! But that’s not what this blog is about. I just wanted to give you a little history of my membership in Theater Extras.
Last week there was an offering for The Little Orchestra Society’s concert honoring the bicentennial of Abe Lincoln’s birth. They were playing, among other things, Aaron Copeland’s “A Lincoln Portrait,” and it was to be narrated by James Earl Jones, who could narrate an autopsy and make it sound good. This was one of their concerts for young people, so Jacki and I went in to it knowing that there would indeed be lots of children, and therefore a fairly high level of noise, probably more than usual. The concert was at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.
Avery Fisher Hall was built specifically to become the home of the New York Philharmonic, who up until that time had played concerts at Carnegie Hall. Avery Fisher opened in 1962 (but it was not called Avery Fisher until a man named Avery Fisher gave them a giant lump of cash and they named it after him), but much to everyone’s dismay, it was an acoustical dud. Well, it is not acoustically great if you want to hear what’s being played on the stage, but I know first hand that if you are in the 7th row and you have gum, the whole damn place can hear you getting that gum out. I’ll explain further on…
Because Theater Extras tends to get some of the worst seats at the event, we have become accustomed to either being way off to the side behind a pillar, way up in the last row of the rear mezzanine, or in the case of a place like Avery Fisher, way down in the front where you can hear essentially nothing, get a stiff neck from craning upwards to see, and at that can only see the tops of musician’s heads. But hey, it’s $4.00…Anyway, we took our seats at this Lincoln Center concert for Lincoln and the music began. I don’t remember what the first piece was, but it was indeed lovely, and they had a slide show of Daguerreotypes and photos of Lincoln and the Civil War and slaves and other things iconic of that era. And bunting. There was lots of red, white and blue bunting because nothing says Olde Time Americana like bunting.
At the conclusion of the first piece the conductor turned to talk to the audience, because remember, this is a young people’s concert and they try to get the kids involved. Plus, kids today think everything is interactive anyway, so might as well flat out talk to them rather than expecting them to sit there quietly like we did in the days before “interactive.” No, wait – we had “interactive;” it was known as “go outside and play with your friends,” but I digress. The conductor said, “Who knows what year Lincoln was born?” Now remember – we are there for a bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth. Presumably every adult in there knew the answer, and knew enough to keep quiet and let the kids answer. But no. This guy in the 7th row shouted out “1809!” and the conductor looked at him oddly, as if to say “You’re an idiot, that question was not for you” but instead said “Yes, that’s right, 1809” and then he talked more about Lincoln’s early years. Then the conductor said, “President Obama is our 44th president – does anyone know what number Abe Lincoln was?” and sure enough, dick head shouted out “Sixteen!” The conductor, like those of us near him, were beginning to wonder if maybe this guy was developmentally disabled and had the mind of a child and that is why he is answering. No. He then high five'd his girlfriend, who was clearly impressed by this jackass’s intellectual prowess on the subject of Abraham Lincoln, and it was then that we all saw that he was just an annoying blowhard. Finally, the conductor said, “President Obama and President Lincoln were both from the same state when they were elected…anyone know what state that is?” And at this point the conductor leveled a look at Shit-For-Brains that clearly said “DO NOT ANSWER THIS” but sure enough, he shouted out “Illinois!” The conductor's shoulders dropped, he said nothing, turned to the orchestra and began the next piece, clearly defeated and deflated by this buffoon’s ruining of his lesson to the children. In the meantime, Genius’s girlfriend was so impressed that she felt the need to deep tongue kiss him for the next three full minutes.
The concert proceeded with no more shenanigans until there was a really quiet part. A guest violinist and composer was on the stage playing a solo medley of songs written during the Civil War, which was apparently a very prolific time period, song-wise (a fact our man did NOT know, thankfully). As the haunting strains of a sad melody from this lone instrument tried valiantly to make its way to the back of this acoustically imperfect hall, the Dynamic Duo in row 7 thought to themselves, “Hey, now would be the perfect time for minty fresh breath! Let’s push gum chiclets through this really noisy foil/plastic container, and let's do it over and over again.” So they did. Of course, they dropped the first piece, so that was a do-over. And I guess Mr. Know-It-All has a really big mouth, because he needed to chew three pieces simultaneously. So the gum wrapper noise lasted for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, a 9-year-old in the row in front of them turned around and shushed them. And when the child turned back around they did what any adult would do in a similar situation -- they had another piece of gum.
We really enjoyed the concert, but I doubt I will be going back to any young people concerts. And not because of the kids – no, they were perfect audience members. It’s the adults I am afraid of. Because we live in a world with no rules, especially for the two people in seats 16 and 18, Row G, Avery Fisher Hall, on February 28, 2009. Idiots.
Copyright (c) 2009 Leslie R Becker