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District Broaches Subject Of Audience Behavior

POSTED October 26, 2011 9:25 a.m.

In an effort to rein in certain behaviors at public performances, the Oakdale Joint Unified School District is trying to educate students and adults about proper audience etiquette.

District Superintendent Marc Malone said that over the years, they’ve become concerned about appropriate behavior at public student performances and graduations. Audience disruptions affect performers and other audience members alike. Notices with a few bullet points to keep in mind at the performances will now accompany the event programs.

“As budding musicians, the dynamics of encouragement come from all directions, including the audience,” said district band instructor Ross McGinnis. “With 50 to 60 hours of class-time work being invested into a quarterly 30- to 40-minute performance, (that’s) about an hour-and-a-half per finished minute.”

He added that concerts should be the pinnacle of a completely positive experience for students when they get confirmation that their efforts are respected and well received.

Some of the main interruptions at performances are cell phones, conversations, camera flashes, and entering or exiting the auditorium or theater after a certain part of the performance that isn’t intermission. These are distractions and should only take place during an appropriate point in the function.

If parents want to use flash photography, Malone suggested asking whoever is in charge of the production prior to the program. It’s appreciated if everyone in the audience turn off their cell phones during a performance or set them to the vibrate mode. It’s also preferred that calls not be taken during the performance, even if the person is whispering.

“Just as you can hear them (perform), they can hear you,” Superintendent Malone said. “…They can hear us in the audience.”

Both Malone and Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Barbara Shook noted that the arts in the district are growing and that as the performances get bigger and better, the audiences grow, too, and it’s important that the audience members know how to conduct themselves so that everyone can enjoy.

The district’s intermediate level music and choir director Kathy Larson reported that her choir has 120 members – fourth through sixth graders. With a group this size, she said, they often perform for a “full house,” which is exciting for the students. They work hard during weekly rehearsals to polish and perfect their performance numbers, she noted.

“While these singers are talented and hard working, they are also young and distractible, especially if a family member in the audience is trying to get their individual attention,” Larson said. “…With large audiences, the distractions can have a ‘domino effect.’”

Malone added that they want the audiences to grow and support the students; however, the district also wants to call attention to the issue because they need help from those in attendance at these events to be mindful of proper etiquette. Shook said that they want to educate people about what’s important once inside the venue during the live performance and pointed out that the adults also set the example for young children – their own and others.

“When I was a little girl, my parents introduced my siblings and I to concerts… I learned to sit still, to applaud and to enjoy the performances. Today, so many children are exposed to the rock concert mentality where the music is so loud it doesn’t matter if you scream along,” said primary music teacher and third grade choir director Cynthia Hofmann. “I spend time in the classroom teaching the children about proper behavior at a concert. I tell them it is important for their parents to applaud and for them to accept that applause with a smile. It is so appreciated when parents refrain from yelling to their child. It embarrasses the student and disrupts the special atmosphere that we have worked so hard to create.”

Oakdale High School drama and choir instructor Bryan Mills said that as a Performing Arts educator he’s very much in support of educating the audience members on performance etiquette, especially in the current OHS Theater – an intimate setting with seating for about 200.

“The OHS Theater is not designed for audience members to leave or enter via the side entrances and exits during the performances without major interruptions to the show,” Mills said.

He noted, however, that there is a back emergency exit through the technical booth that leads into the weight room then leads out of the building if it’s important to leave the performance.

Hofmann added that the students in her third grade choir are sensitive, very musical, and are singing in two, three and even four parts.

“They need to listen carefully to each other and the accompaniment,” she said. “Noise from the audience is distracting at best. As their director, I try to instill in them the discipline to stay focused on me and on the music… It is helpful for grownups to realize that these voices have years to go before they develop into a big sound. Polite and receptive audiences are encouraging...”

Outdoor venues present similar issues plus other disruptions during events such as graduation. Balloons block other people’s vision, air horns are a safety code violation, and behaviors such as tossing beach balls and booing aren’t befitting to the serious nature of a momentous occasion like graduation, Malone added.

“Graduations are to be a serious time for students,” he said. “They’re not football games. Cheer when it’s appropriate.”

Since most performances are only about an hour or less, it’s viewed as not being too much to ask to have audience members adjust their cell phone habits or to stay in their seats for that period of time.

Hofmann and Larson both said when the children’s hard work is rewarded it’s a great feeling. They hope that Oakdale audiences will be eager to show their children their pride by keeping the simple rules of etiquette in mind. If the audience thinks the performance is exceptional, a standing ovation is always a thrill for the students.

Upcoming performances include the high school and junior high Fall Choir Concert on Oct. 26; the junior high Fall Band and Steel Band Concert on Oct. 27; the play Charlotte’s Web on Dec 2-4; the high school and junior high Holiday Choir Concert on Dec. 7 with those schools’ Holiday Band Concert on Dec. 8; the Elementary Band Concert on Dec. 13, and the Elementary Choir Concerts on Dec. 15. For more details about these events, visit the district website at www.oakdale.k12.ca.us.

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