In the last two months, the department of performing arts has collaborated with the Browning Center to ensure that disruptive audience members are confronted appropriately after an incident in early November attracted negative attention from major local media outlets.
The incident — in which a Weber State University orchestral director stopped a performance to confront an audience member who was making sounds during a live performance — was criticized by many in attendance and was initially blasted by a local newspaper, which reported the event from the perspective of a disgruntled audience member.
“There was kind of an unwritten consensus of opinion when you’re confronted with disruptive audience members or with emergency situations, but we hadn’t reviewed those unwritten assumptions in a long time,” said Madonne Miner, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities. “We sat down, and we talked about what we need to remind ourselves of with respect to working well with our audiences.”
Had protocol been followed, the conductor could have left the stage to notify the house manager about the problem remotely. The house manager could have then asked the audience member to leave the performance or discontinue the disruption. During the November incident, the performance’s ushers were busy preparing to help an unexpectedly large audience exit the building after the concert and were not in the house at the time of the disruption, said Thomas Priest, chair of the performing arts department at WSU.
The Browning Center, department of performing arts and the Dee Events Center ticket office were all involved in the conversation, Miner said. The game plan to ensure audiences behave appropriately in the future includes reminding performers and Browning Center staff of proper protocol during an emergency or when an audience member is disruptive and informing the public of audience expectations, Miner said.
“We see ourselves as being a teaching institution, and that teaching applies to our students, but it also applies, I guess, to the greater populace. We want everyone to be well informed about what’s expected,” Miner said. “We want people to come to performances but we also want people to understand what they’re getting in to when they do attend performances. All of us are committed to ensuring that we can provide the best experience for both audience members and performers. ”
Audience expectations — which vary by performance — might now be printed on tickets or programs or be communicated to patrons verbally when they buy tickets, Miner said.
In addition to making expectations more visible to audiences, both the Browning Center staff and performers in the department of performing arts are being reminded of proper protocols, Priest said.
“Performers should not be addressing audiences, and that’s what the Browning Center team sort of reminded everyone,” Priest said. “The reminder was more to the performing arts’ faculty to sort of say, if you have an issue, if something comes up, to refer that because they’re kind of the experts in working with the audience so we should let them do their jobs.”