New York City Ballet’s Nutcracker season opened on Friday night. Review coming soon, but first I just have to complain about what I assume is a new custom in the Koch Theater, at least during Nutcracker season — the selling of Twizzlers, gummy bears, M&Ms and other bags of candy, along with bottled water, in the concession area, which is situated so close to the auditorium, audiences are assuming they’re for consumption inside the theater.
My friend Mika and I were seated comfortably in our orchestra seats (my first time in the new Koch house orchestra — wonderful wonderful improvement from the old: each row of plush velvety seats is staggered considerably higher from the prior row so that you can easily see above the head in front of you! Yay!), the lights dimmed, Faycal came out and took his cute little bow, the orchestra began — this is some of my favorite music in all of ballet — and suddenly, the row behind me began this all-out candy fest. Multiple bags were torn into, water bottles opened. “Here, honey, have a licorice,” said the mother. I turned around and shot the mother a look but she completely ignored me — or perhaps didn’t even register that I was looking at her for a reason. This continued — the passing of the crinkly bags, the water bottle’s cap being removed and replaced, the noise the plastic bottle made as the water was drunk and it filled with air, the “here, have the rest of this cookie,” etc. continued throughout the entire first act. I don’t think anything has ever disturbed me so much in the theater. I felt like I was at a movie — and a noisy movie at that. I almost felt like crying during the mouse / soldier fight scene — I love those tantalizing flutes! And I could hardly hear them.
When the curtain went down on the first act, I turned around, but the family of four kept right on gorging, staring right back at me, like they had no idea what I was looking at, and not even trying to hide their food. I felt like lecturing them on manners, on music appreciation, on ballet-going not only being a visual experience. I looked down the row to see if anyone else was annoyed and then noticed several others were doing the same exact thing.
I decided this wasn’t a regular ballet crowd and some random audience member lecturing everyone would be ridiculous. So, I spent most of intermission walking up and down the aisles searching for an usher — did they get rid of half the staff or something? Finally, a woman dressed in black asked me if I needed something, and I asked her if she worked here. She said yes, and I told her about the picnic-ers, and led her to them, where she told them eating wasn’t allowed in the theater. They all looked rather astonished.
Then Mika and I walked out front and I saw the concession stands overflowing with that same candy. Then I felt bad. I realized they didn’t just go to the Duane Reade and buy out the candy counter in preparation for the night; they bought it inside the theater, thinking, like at the circus or something, it was perfectly okay to chow down during performance. They’d dressed up their little girls in bright satin-y dresses, they’d obviously splurged on orchestra seats, and they didn’t look that wealthy. I felt like an obnoxious snob! On our way back in, I saw several others carrying bags of candy in with them. The family in back of me clearly weren’t the only offenders. (see the comments too)
I mean, it is about manners, but it’s not just about etiquette. It’s about art appreciation. Most mainstream movies don’t rise to the level of art; they cater to people’s preconceived notions and their plots don’t require many brain cells to understand. So it makes sense that people can take considerable time from looking up at the screen to focus on getting at their candy and passing it all around. But of course not every form of entertainment is so simple. In order to appreciate the artists’ abilities to subtly structure sound and movement to tell a story, you can’t be so focused on your food.
Anyway, happily, they obeyed the usher and didn’t eat at all during the second act (which I was able to enjoy much more). But I think, to avoid that kind of embarrassment and audience annoyance, if they’re going to sell circus-like candy at the concession stands during the Nutcracker, then there should be signs posted nicely but clearly instructing people to consume the food and beverages in the lobby, not the theater.