Welcome to Pogue's Pages!

I'm POGUE...known by many as Chuck Pogue, a few as Charles Pogue, and billed professionally as Charles Edward Pogue...just because it really looks BIG splashed across a theatre programme or a movie screen. From that last remark and the profile on the left, you can see I'm a theatre man...And the term "theatre" encompasses stage, film, TV. I've been shooting my mouth off on other people's blogs and message boards for forever. So having finally gotten the hang of it, I've decided to build my own soapbox from which I can pontificate, blather, and muse...mostly on theatre, film, writing, music, books...but ultimately anything that interests me, irritates me, or just catches my fancy. I invite you to join me. I'll try to be faithful and update regularly, so that when you visit there will always be something fresh percolating and maybe even provocative that we can discuss, dissect, or debate.

Charles Edward Pogue

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Last week on my Facebook page (Yes, I finally succumbed and have found it to be the addictive, totally entertaining, time-wasting amusement I long suspected it was), I bespoke of my puzzlement and not a little irritation of being at the theatre and watching the audience applaud the scene breaks and blackouts. A dear friend of mine, who also attended a performance of the same show where I witnessed this curious phenomenon, accused me of being “the applause police” and said she now knew what folks meant when they said they had been “Pogued”…an allusion, I assume, to my oft-acerbic, jaundiced-eyed critiques of those things that exacerbate my curmudgeonly impatience.

Sorry, I have no remorse. I have already been pretty much chased out of movie theatres these days, because people insist on bringing their living room manners with them and have an utter inability to detach themselves for a couple of hours from all the latest technical gee-gaws and whirl-a-gigs.

If they are not nattering with audible intrusiveness to their neighbour in the next seat, they are nattering to someone on their cell phone…or texting or checking emails. Those “lovely people out there in the dark” that Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in SUNSET BOULEVARD extolled are, frankly, not so lovely anymore and “out there in the dark” ain’t so dark what with the little invasive patches of light from beeping, bleeping, clicky-clacky, tippy-tapping cell phones.

It’s just easier to watch a movie on DVD on the 52 inch flat screen at home in my underwear. I don’t need the big screen experience, the three dollar drinks, and the five dollar popcorn…But mostly I don’t need the distracting communal experience where people are blithely indifferent to the consideration of others and are incapable of focusing on a single experience without attention-deficit multi-tasking.

Given all this, I don’t know why I expect the experience of attending live theatre to retain any vestige of gracious living, good manners, and more civilized behaviour, but I naively do. Nor do I seem alone in this futile expectation. Over the last few months and weeks, I have encountered several newspaper columns, internet articles, and blogs that have been discussing, debating, and bemoaning the alarming increase of “Were you raised in barn?” manners that intrude on and diminish the theatre-going experience.

I confess a considerable amount of these discussions…though hardly all…stem from British sources, where the theatre is a more viable and entrenched part of one’s cultural life, and where these unhealthy audience habits are seen to be immigrating from America. They probably are.

We are, after all, the culture of not only self-absorption to point of total unawareness of others, but also the culture of hyberbole and over-sell, often praising things far beyond their merits where the mediocre is considered good, the good great, the great…usually ignored, because it is not understood by an audience weaned on the pablum of TV. I’m not sure we understand the difference between good and bad anymore. It seems that if one just shows up for the gig anymore that is enough of a commitment to lavish over-abundant praise upon them.

These articles recently came to a terrific culmination in the London Times with critic Benedict Nightingale’s THE 15 GOLDEN RULES OF THEATRE ETIQUETTE( as of this writing, still online). I found them to be pretty good rules…and given the comments to the article, many other disgruntled, frustrated theatre-goers thought so too. Applauding during scene breaks and blackouts was not on Mr. Nightingale’s list of Do’s and Don’t’s (though one of the responders to the article invoked it). I think its omission was only because this habit has not quite made its way across the Atlantic yet and insidiously infiltrated its way into the British audience. It only rears its head with the occasional uninitiated American tourist.

I’m not quite sure when this habit of applauding every scene break began. I actually became conscious of it (though I’m sure I had experienced it before) when I was at a university play. The audience was mostly students. I think I dismissed it…perhaps, unfairly… to inexperience, figuring most of them probably didn't attend all that much live theatre and that some were just over-enthusiatically supporting their pals on stage and others, unsure of proper procedure, followed suit.

But this was not the case the other night. Now, granted, it also wasn’t your typical theatre venue. It was one of those outdoor summer affairs. Blankets, picnic baskets, wine. And its laid-back environment also probably attracts a lot of folk who are not your typical theatre-goer. There’s plenty of chatting, cell phone use, and just inattentiveness that has become somewhat de rigeur for outdoor summer fare…though I’ve yet see it at the Old Globe in San Diego or the Globe in London.

But here every time a troupe of actors trotted off at the end of a scene or the lights dimmed, applause filled the night. It was often sporadic and tentative applause which makes me believe it was more often spurred on by various claques or the mere uncertainty of the proper etiquette.

But, you may ask, why is it improper to show your appreciation of the actors in this fashion? After all, who’s to say whether it’s right or wrong? Unless someone in authority is going to tell you to be quiet or pitch you out of the theatre for creating a disturbance, isn't any response fair game?

So why does it bug me? It’s like applauding after every movement of a symphony instead of at the end of it. And Lord knows, this insidious practice abounds too…I’ve seen it happen at the Hollywood Bowl (And I can remember an Italian producer who drunkenly sang along with Pavarotti there too..but that's another story).

We’re so anxious to show our appreciation or our misguided notion that “we really are hip and get it” that we applaud before the complete performance is over. This is not necessarily an encouraging sign to a serious artist, as it bespeaks more ignorance than true appreciation of the artist’s skills. I remember a story where one esteemed soloist walked off after the audience applauded the first movement.

Why? I suppose because there is a mood, a spell that an artist is trying to create -- a level of concentration and immersion that one hopes envelopes both artist and audience in the same enchantment. Indiscriminate, over-enthusiastic, out-of-proportion, and often as-yet-unearned and undeserved applause can break that spell, dissolve the enchantment, disrupt the concentration.

Yes, we’ve all experienced that moment when a performer has had a particularly splashy, flashy stage turn that overwhelms an audience with such uncontainable exuberance, they must show their irrepressible approbation with a round of honest exit applause. Nothing wrong in that.

But the scene break/blackout applause always seems to me like a bunch of trained seals; as though someone has turned on the studio audience “Applause” sign, generating an unthinking Pavlovian response. It is born not so much out of genuine enthusiasm for what is transpiring onstage but is rather merely the mechanics of an automaton.

It’s all a bit naff (to use Mr. Nightingale's term), disrupts narrative flow and adds minutes to the evening that neither the actor nor the audience needs. And anything that takes me out of the story, distracts or disengages me from the performance, I find inappropriate. Applauding at the wrong time is like laughing at the wrong time…like laughing at the set-up instead of the punchline or at a tragic moment. It’s just as intrusive as someone narrating the plot to their inattentive companion or rustling candy wrappers or texting or taking pictures on their cell.

Now part of the burden falls on the playwright and the director to keep the action of the play flowing, devoid of lulls where an audience feels obligated to fill a scene change or time lapse with applause.

But, please, applaud at the act breaks and the curtain. Applauding every frigging scene break or blackout is simply applauding unfinished work. The performance isn’t over. “So far so good” is not a reason to applaud! Applauding at the Act Break, when everything actually stops, is the perfect place for a progress report of approval to let the actors on stage know you think they’re doing well enough that you’ll be back after the interval.

And despite what is said about actors’ overblown egos, the truly good ones are usually objective enough to be able to assess how they’re doing on any given night and they know when applause is warranted; when the audience is sincerely returning fair measure for the work being done and when it is disproportionate. You’re not fooling the ones who know their trade.

I devoutly hope this habit does not become as pervasive as the empty standing ovation which has long been stripped of any its special meaning. A standing O should be a cathartic response for a truly transcendent theatre experience and a rare event, not a commonplace reward for the actors just because they showed up for the gig. Once again, the pros know…although I do recall a friend who was mortified to be in a show where the largely amateur cast was furious that they were not receiving a nightly standing ovation which they misguidedly thought their automatic due. Naturally, they blamed the “ignorant” audience for this oversight.

Such attitudes, I suppose, are generated once again by a TV/sporting event culture where to ratchet up the stakes, game show contestants are encouraged to pee themselves with excitement, in-house audiences are egged on to holler, hoot, and stamp their feet every time a potential American Idol changes key or goes up another octave, and where the more extravagant, rowdy, and vocal our behaviour in the stadium the better to root on the home team.

But the theatre isn’t TV, baseball, or your kid’s soccer game. And, if your kid’s in the play, trust me, he doesn’t want you cheerleading every time he enters or filming his performance on your cell phone…or if he does, he is a hopeless, hapless dilettante who has no respect for the discipline of the theatre.

Sadly, the obligatory standing ovation, regardless of the performance’s merits, seems to be another American aberration. In England, one sees it only on rare and arguably deserving occasions. In Rick McKay’s excellent documentary, BROADWAY: THE GOLDEN AGE, Stephen Sondheim posits an interesting theory on the overdose of standing ovations these days.

He suggests that it has its origins in the cost of the tickets, plus dinner, plus parking, plus babysitter. To justify and reconcile such an extravagant theatre night on the town, theatre-goers must perceive whatever they saw as an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime experience (and, for some out-of-town tourists, it may well be). In other words to assuage the pocketbook and conscience, the evening…whether it was or not…was well worth it, by God, and it’s getting a response well worth it – a standing ovation!

It’s as valid a theory as any and one can see how it might trickle down from the big cities to the smaller theatre venues. That doesn’t make it right. I mean if I’m not standing for Ian McKellen or Judi Dench (and I have and haven’t for both...despite the fact I've enjoyed them in everything I've seen),the odds of me seeing something so breathlessly brilliant out here in the sticks that would prompt me to instaneously leap to my feet are few and far between – not that it hasn’t happened.

But the more likely scenario is what happened to me and the wife awhile back in a local community theatre. The play itself, frankly, was not great. Though several admirable actors whose work we’ve enjoyed were in the production, neither it nor they could overcome the material and it was hardly anyone’s finest hour. The whole evening was a bit of a slog.

Nonetheless, true to form, at the end of the evening, first the die-hard adherents of the theatre leapt to their feet, followed by the lemmings or those unsure of what proper, polite appreciation was…finally, leaving only Julieanne and I planted in our seats, determined not to surrender to the tyranny of this undeserved standing ovation. We steadfastly did not want to give a mediocre production more than its due. But the bloody audience would not sit down, the cast kept milking the applause, and we kept being stabbed by the icy, outraged stares around us. I finally muttered to Julieanne, “We’d better stand or we won't leave here alive.”

And so we did...bullied by another form of “applause police.” It was just easier than being interrogated as to why we didn’t like the show or why we didn’t stand. If one came up to you after and gushed, “Didn’t you just love it?”, you could just nod with tepid politeness without feeling compelled to ramble off a long impassioned, intellectual dissertation about one’s devotion and dedication to the theatre they neither wanted to hear nor, in all likelihood, had the patience to grasp. After all, it’s my passion... not theirs. The professional versus the layman.

But even if most audiences are of the laymen variety, it should not excuse them from civility and courteous behaviour for both the performers working onstage and their fellow audience members. But while it’s easy to build an agreeable consensus that crinkling candy wrappers, chattering, cell phones, and snoring are all no-nos, a debate on the propriety of applause…generally thought a good thing… is a dicey go. After all, if a little applause is a good thing, isn’t a whole lot more even better? Yes, I can only say, but…only when it’s appropriate!

How many of Benedict Nightingale’s 15 golden rules of theatre etiquette do you agree with? Are there any audience habits not mentioned that annoy you either as a performer or an audience member?



BEAU GESTE…the 1939 classic film of P.C. Wren’s classic adventure romance of the French Foreign Legion and brotherly devotion on TCM.


Still wending my way through the volume of Cornell Woolrich short stories, NIGHTWEBS. Some nifty little tales.


A cache of some 13 CDs containing film scores and obscure musicals released on my pal Bruce Kimmel’s KRITZERLAND label. Among them, THE TWISTED NERVE by Bernard Herrmann, with a great whistling theme that Quentin Tarantino lifted and used in KILL BILL; RASHOMON by Laurence Rosenthal; GOD’S LITTLE ACRE by Elmer Bernstein; ILLYA DARLING, a musical based on NEVER ON A SUNDAY; SHOW GIRL with Carol Channing; and HOUSE OF FLOWERS by Truman Capote and Harold Arlen.
Any media gems you care to share?


  1. I think that Rick McKay is overthinking things. I believe the over-reliance on standing ovations is explained by two other factors that are also mentioned (or hinted at), in your post.

    1-If a little is good, a lot is great. Unfortunately, the idea of moderation in all things is not a well-received one.

    2-People live an ambivalence, when it comes to art. On the one hand, they feel they have the right to express what they feel (and they do), but on the other hand, they have a deep-seated lack of faith in their judgment. Given those two factors, one is less likely to offend by being excessively complimentary, as opposed to excessively terse.

    Then you can also add in the sheep factor. Which, disappointingly, you admit to being a victim of. Next time, stand by your principles. At the very least, you won't be a part of the audience that is annoying you. Or me. Our principles are only TRULY our principle, if we stand by them in the face of adversity.

    For Nightingale:

    I don't disagree with any of them.

    14- Being six-foot-one, I have a tendency to either sit at the aisle or scruntch down, a little.

    15- The closest I came to a violent encounter (and it wasn't very close) was in a movie theatre. The row in front of me had about 7 or so young teens who decided to maintain their socializing, during the movie. I was sitting with one leg up on the other knee, so I resorted to a rapid leg-stretch, banging my leg against the row. The entire row (only the teens and a few empty seats) jerked.

    The teens shot me some dirty looks, which I returned with force... but at least I got to watch the rest of the movie in silence.

  2. It was actually Sondheim's theory, not McKay's.

    Sir, you justly upbraid me for not adhering to my principles and keeping my butt firmly in my seat. I have in the past, but there are some times when it is easier to take the path of least resistance...But you're right and I shall try to stand fast in the future.

  3. I really hate this cursory standing ovation thing. But I think people started standing partly because they were gathering their things to leave.

    And amen about manners. I guess I must have been raised by Eloise or something, because I often find myself completely baffled by the lack of manners people have these days. Is it a Southern thing to be taught manners and I now live in California where people don't have them, or is it just a general decline of courtesy all over?

  4. Either it's a general decline or.... Jesus! Maybe I'm just getting old.

  5. Well, I don't think it's just a Southern thing because they're no better here in Kentucky than anywhere else in the country...or maybe Kentucky is still considered a border state and not a Southern one.

    I think it has to do with a general self-absorption. People spend far too much time alone with their various screens or connecting with others only via technology. Lack of actual face time in another person's physical presence contributes to a lack of awareness for others.