“Every show now gets a standing ovation…[audiences] want to remind themselves that it's an occasion--they're applauding themselves.”
McMullen’s bold idea – let’s call it the Intermission Test, for want of a better phrase - was sparked by an article from Globe and Mail critic J. Kelly Nestruck regarding our growing affection for standing ovations. “Theatregoers get up on their feet and clap at the end of plays more than ever,” wrote Nestruck. “The gesture is no longer exceptional.” This is not a particularly Canadian phenomenon. In the summer, 2000 issue of The Sondheim Review, musical theatre legend Stephen Sondheim remarked that “Every show now gets a standing ovation…[audiences] want to remind themselves that it's an occasion--they're applauding themselves.”
The question behind the Intermission Test is a bold one: what is it, exactly, that theatre artists are selling? Or, more importantly, what is it that audiences are buying? In True or False, David Mamet writes that “the price of admission is choice – the choice to participate in the low, the uncertain, the unproved, the unheralded.” If this was what theatre artists advertised, then the Intermission Test would not be needed. But theatre companies do not ever say “Come see our play – we’re trying something and at the very least, it will be unique”. They promise The Most Exciting Night at the Theatre Full of the Greatest Actors of Our Time – even though they know it’s hyperbole and their shows rarely live up to the hype.