On Walking out of a play

Last night the wife and I went to watch what we thought was going to be a play at KH Kala Soudha in Hanumanthanagar. It was supposed to be “directed” by RJ Vinayak Joshi and “starring” among others TN Seetharam, Master Hiriyannaiah and others. It turned out to be more like a talk show, where Joshi attempted to ‘interview’ these worthies, and they came up on stage and sat on a bench and put senti. And talked on, and on, and on.

I’m not saying it was a total ripoff. The band that was playing at the side was pretty good, with the singers having quite distinctive voices and the music also being quite nice. There was this little standup piece by this guy called Nagaraj Kote, which was probably the only part of the evening that lived up to the announced title ‘Simple is difficult’. Then, there was this frequent dialogue between Joshi, playing “naanalla” (not me) and this other guy playing “gottilla” (i don’t know). And they invited this really old couple to talk about their 50-year-old marriage, and they turned out to be quite funny!

Actually, despite some 15-20 mins of senti by Seetharam sometime in the middle, everything seemed to be going quite well. It was 9 o’clock and time for the “play” to be over. And then Master Hiriyannaiah came up on stage. And started talking. And talking. And talking. He was supposed to be taking a dig at politicians, and he ended up talking just like one of them. Rambling on and on and on. And on and on and on. The band had by then gone off stage, else they could’ve played LedZep’s Ramble On and salvaged the evening.

So there was this debate between the wife and I about whether it was ethical to walk out. A few minutes after Hiriyannaiah started rambling, I thought the theatrepeople had broken their part of the contract – as long as they were within the time that they advertised, they were good. And we were obliged to hold up our end of the contract. But once they overshot, I felt no need to hold up my end of the contract, and having given them the gate money, and my promised 90 minutes, I was now free to walk out.

Of course, I wasn’t going to do something outrageous – like shouting or screaming or talking on my mobile or anything else that might cause disrespect to the performers. All I wanted to do was to walk out.

The wife, on the other hand, felt it would be insensitive on our part to walk out, and that it too would amount to disrespect, and we ought to stay till the end of the show. Her thinking reminded me of what happens in an interest rate swap when one party goes bankrupt – the counterparty is obliged to continue paying it’s share of the swap, and hold up its end of the contract.

I think there’s merit in both sides of the argument, and I kept debating that as I waited until the end of Hiriyannaiah’s rambles when I really couldn’t take it any more and I walked out. So what do you think of this? Do you think it’s ok for performers to expect perfect behaviour from the audience even after they’ve not held up their end of the contract? Do you think it’s ethical for people to quietly walk out of a play that they’re not enjoying at all, as a means of protest? Don’t you think it helps having this part of the feedback loop?

Comments, please.

7 thoughts on “On Walking out of a play”

  1. Dude, reading your blog for some time but never commented.

    But WTF, where do ethics come from here? One tolerates a bad performance for 5-10 minutes, hoping it would get better or to give some benefit of doubt, and it does not get better. So one walks out, not wanting to be tied down to a stupid mental torture. Feedback Schmeedback, I don’t care about that specifically. If the people on stage take feedback from it, then good for them. I just want out, forget about any refund and that’s it. Where do f’in ethics come in?

  2. Agreed with C mostly with a little less vehemence perhaps. A ticket sounds like an option (never thought it was obligatory to stay till the end, even if it is within the advertised limit). Why was it even a debate.

  3. I think the audience has an ethical duty to walk out such shows. Guys like Hiranyaya haven’t developed new material in years (decades actually) and are trying to “coast” on their past reputation.

    If the audiences started “walking” 5 mins into his performance and demanded their money back maybe he would get the message.

    The late comedian George Carlin would say if he wasn’t getting a laugh every 30 seconds he would go back and work on his material.

  4. May be some people just like to wait for the curtain call.
    In any case, if you wanted to walk out, you should have. Why does a guy with such strong opinions have to wait for his wife’s approval to act on his wish.

  5. at least in the western world, it is considered rude to walk out of a show, or disturb the audience in some way. I hold no major opinion about this and go with social norms.
    If people overshoot their time, all bets are off. They will have to woo their audience to stay longer (by their performance). It is likely that nobody in the audience wants to be the first to leave, but a poor performance that spills over is really testing the audience. Even if people dont walk out, ill will damage is done.
    If the play was not a play, then its a question of your 90min vs socially acceptable behavior. imo, you should listen to your heart 😉

  6. Agree with your wife. It is a question of sabhyate. Considering the performers in question, nature of performance (casual chat), the location (old Bangalore), etc. there is a kind of expectation that the performers have from the audience. Which is that they recognise the “service” someone like Hiranniah has given to the state over the years and hence won’t mind if he overshoots time a little bit. Sort of like an uncle you love – you won’t walk out on him just because he is boring you with his talk. By agreeing to be part of such an audience, you have implicitly entered into such a close relationship for that duration. Unless you have some emergency, I wouldn’t suggest walking out.

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