Mezz vs. orchestra: It’s the people around you

I settled into my seat at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in Manhattan on Saturday well in advance of the curtain’s rise. My wife and I were eager to see “God of Carnage,” which had received great reviews and featured a high-profile cast. For a change, we had seats in the mezzanine section – rather than our usual preference for orchestra. It wasn’t a big deal, and we were prepared to accept the greater distance from the stage. By the end of the show, however, we vowed never to sit in the mezzanine section again. The people around us made the difference.

I see it all the time, and I know I’m not alone. A busload of tourists stumbles onto the sidewalk and crowds around the theater‘s doors. Some push; others linger. Both fail to understand the concept of forming a line … or joining one that already exists. Or, a group of people who live a mere hour from the city spend six months planning their annual trip into the thrilling metropolis and can’t contain their excitement at being able to see an actual celebrity working. You are noticeable a mile away, and yes, you’re being judged.

So, if you are headed into Manhattan to enjoy a Broadway production, please heed the following advice. You’ll make the experience better for everyone. Most of it is common sense, but unfortunately, there are people out there who need a detailed list.

Don’t be loud; don’t linger
As I climbed the stairs, I was stuck in the middle of a crowd of nine people who made their annual trek from New Jersey into Manhattan to get a bit of “culcha [culture].” They screeched as they plodded about how they should be featured as the Real Housewives of New Jersey, poking each other about their respective shitty marriages. The conversation kept them from taking their seats efficiency, causing a logjam that stretched all the way back to the entrance. So, while we were treated to diatribes about their husbands, guests out of earshot were stuck in place without even knowing why.

Advice: Shut up, and get to your seat quickly. Talk when you’re settled in … and do so quietly.

Arrive on time
This seems as though it shouldn’t need to be said, and I’ve only rarely encountered it when sitting in the orchestra section. Yet, in mezzanine, it’s more common. A man arrived around five minutes after the production started, had trouble getting to his seat in the dark and tripped over my foot (okay, I’m not entirely innocent here). He was the punctual half, though. His companion arrived 15 minutes later and made an even bigger scene.

Advice: Do I have to spell it out? You know when the show starts: plan accordingly.

Don’t clap when the curtain comes up
Yes, when you see the likes of James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden on stage, it’s exciting. Your urge is to applaud, to slap your hands together as violently as possible. Meanwhile, what are James Gandolfini and Marcia Gay Harden doing? They’re talking! And, we can’t hear them! Let the actors perform. That’s why they are on the damned stage.

Advice: If you just want to see celebrities, hang around outside the theater and wait for them to arrive or depart. Otherwise, watch and listen. That’s the whole reason you spent $70 a ticket.

Don’t talk during the show … duh
Again, does this really need to be explained? For some reason, the people down in the orchestra section have figured out that the actors do the talking; the audience does the listening. In the mezzanine section, however, the actors do the primary talking, and the spectators provide a running commentary. Guess what? Everyone knows that James Gandolfini played Tony Soprano. They don’t need to be reminded. And, it’s no better when you complain about the nine New Jersey housewives in front of you who have been talking through the entire play. Are you really any better?

Advice: Shut your mouth, and remember that the only people who should be talking are (a) paid to do so and (b) told what to say.

That’s all it takes – four simple rules. I know it seems unwelcoming of me to dump all this on you, but if you exercised even a shred of common sense this article would be unnecessary.

Now, if you live in New York – or did at one time – here’s the best advice of all: sit in the orchestra section. At the risk of being called a New York snob (as my wife and New York snob friends have done already), you’ll have a better time if you join the other New York snobs who … guess what? … are there to enjoy the production.