Memories Of Watching People

Priya Pathiyan lists typical theatregoers you're bound to encounter, no matter which auditorium you frequent.

The Members: These are usually serious lovers of the Arts, often ageing bon vivants, who pay to support their favourite theatre. These permanent patrons shuffle in at least 30 minutes before the curtains go up, take their reserved seats with a great show of dignity, and repeatedly refer to the programme like it's a holy book, the way the younger set might look at their mobile phones. Sometimes, they can be spotted snoozing halfway through the production, especially those seated in the much-envied front row.

The Enthusiasts: They may come in just in time or perhaps even after the third bell rings, but they make up for their tardiness with their energetic clapping and bright-eyed scanning of the audience. Come the intermission and they'll be first out of their seats and hovering around the snack counter to catch the eye of acquaintances so they can tell them exactly what they think of the play, how it compares to the last 20 they've seen, and which actors could have done a better job in the lead role.

The Artsies: They've made it big in a creative field, perhaps just come back from Cannes. Or they are the ones ruling the roost on the regional theatre scene. You can be sure they'll be dressed in designer khadi or rumpled linen and sport pendants almost as large as their egos. They will address the cast and crew by quirky nicknames and make it clear that they are here only to support their friends, even though they have, most likely, not paid for their tickets. Come interval, you may find them centrestage in the cafeteria, presiding over a coterie of supplicants and feeding them their own special blend of BS, while everyone else is gulping down cold coffee or hot samosas.

The Glitterati: They certainly don't believe that ‘less is more'. An evening at the theatre is all about shining in the spotlight for them, even they are only in the audience. They will dress up in shimmer and colour, bathe in the parfum du jour that GQ or Vogue just featured and catwalk their way in and out of their seats. They don't really care about what they're watching as long as they're being watched watching it! And if there's a bigger celebrity in the crowd, they'll be the first to get a selfie to show off their star-studded evening of intellectual entertainment on social media.

The Coughers: Now this is a group that can be found amongst theatre-goers the world over. As soon as the play starts, you'll hear them getting warmed up. What starts with an ‘ahem' here and a soft clearing of the throat there, quickly picks up speed alone with the plot. Just when there's a tense moment or silent suspense, the coughing will commence. And by the time the cast is readying itself for the final reveal or the grand finale, the symphony of throaty barking or harsh hacking will have reached crescendo.

The Managers: They work for the theatre and because of their job, they happen to know a lot of theatre people. So, they spend the early part of the evening swanning around the entrance lobby muahmuah-ing with those who matter. They often have a seat saved just for them at the rear centre and God help a hapless paying member of the audience who moves into this seat thinking it's empty! The dog in the manger (oops. Manager!) will swoop down out of nowhere to bark at the audacious audience member only to disappear again, leaving that seat tantalisingly empty until the end of the night.

The Deprived & the Depraved: With the maximum length of a play being about three hours and the prices of tickets these days, you'd think people could focus on what's unfolding on stage. Instead, you'll hear some rooting about in their bags for snacks they've successfully smuggled in. You'll soon hear the crackle of sweets being unwrapped or the crunch of a cookie stuffed into the mouth hurriedly before a stern usher rushes to admonish them. You almost feel sorry for these Deprived folks, because they clearly haven't had a meal in days and have to resort to eating on the sly in darkened theatres. And then there are the Depraved phone users. You'll miss something important in the play because your eyes are distracted by their bright smartphone screens aglow as they scroll through WhatsApp chats and all manner of non-urgent things. And these are the more civilised ones, for at least they aren't making calls to their cook to give instructions for dinner just as the most important monologue of the night is on!

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