What is a true standing ovation? To answer that question, let's look at what is not. What is not a true standing ovation is when, during a curtain call of a performance, a few people, or maybe just one row of people, decide to stand while they applaud, and because they're blocking the view of those behind them, then those behind them are compelled to stand, and then it all becomes a chain reaction as more rows join in and then people on the sides are prompted as well, somehow feeling obligated, especially after such effort is put forth in the production by the cast and crew.
This past weekend I was happy to be part of a true standing ovation at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, WI. We watched an amazing performance of Hamlet where every nuance of Shakespeare's tragedy was eked out by the actors, the relationships between the characters were honed—their conflicts or fondness for each other.
I had seen Hamlet several times in the past, performed by Theatre de la
Jeune Lune, Theatre in the Round Players, and Century College, but this
one was by far the best. I was drawn in by Hamlet's grief and the
confusion of his drive for revenge; I was disturbed by Ophelia's madness;
I became sympathetic to Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, yet, wondered about her
involvement in her late husband's death. I saw the complexity of Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, usually portrayed as a villain, but coming to grips and praying for forgiveness for the murdering his brother.
When the play ended, and then came the curtain call, the whole audience stood, almost all at the same time, feeling compelled regardless of who was around them.
For each of us, it was like a personal journey. Something about the performance touched each individual to the core or spoke to a universal truth or dug up some raw emotion that had been dormant. Wow.