Critical Mass: The Unbearable Lateness of Being a Fringegoer and Other Matters
In Which Three WCP Theater Critics Set Out To Discuss Matters of Pressing Import, But Get Stuck Bitching About Draconian Late-Seating Policies, Tapped Kegs and The Fact That The Apothecary is HOT AS BALLS.
Glen Weldon: All right, Graham. Klimek. It's about time we blew the lid off a subject that THE MAN doesn't want us to talk about. A topic TOO HOT for polite discussion. An issue that cuts to the very heart of the meat of the bone of the gist of Fringe.
Late seating. Comma why Fringe does not permit.
Look: The rest of the year, I loathe latecomers as much as any thinking person. They stumble over you in the brief darkness between scenes 2 and 3, reeking of entitlement and Chardonnay. They are to be mocked, abjured, pelted with fruit.
But something happened this year. Is happening. And it's particular to Fringe: For the first time in my four years as a theater critic, I've been late to two shows in one week.
Neither time was my fault, except in the sense that both were totally my fault. (Graham, you're a stickler for this; care to share your prim, nanny-like stance with the class?) Nevertheless, I submit that DC's random! 20! minute! Green Line delays and rush hour gridlock on Mass Ave. played supporting roles.
Last Wednesday, when I sprang out of the unmoving cab four blocks away from the Goethe Institut, ran/hobbled through the broth-like air to arrive at PRECISELY 6:00 ON THE DOT, I was turned aside by the Fringe volunteer at the door.
"We're closed," she said.
Perched on my forearm, my falcon Cholmondeley let forth a querulous squawk from beneath his hood; he sensed my surprise.
"I'm .... sorry?" I asked.
"Closed," she said. "The show's started. You can go to the box office to get a later ticket, or try to get a refund, if you ..."
"My good lady," I said, tossing my vermilion opera cape over one shoulder with a flourish. "Do you know .... who... I .... am?"
She blinked at me, saying nothing. Clearly my erudition and breeding had dazzled the poor, dull thing.
I rapped the silver handle of my walking stick (an exquisite piece, shaped into the head of a doberman, with eyes of polished onyx) against the table peremptorily.
"Come come," I said, "I am Glen Weldon. Of the Washington. City. Paper. ...'s blog. I am a CRITIC."
"Your petty laws do not apply to one such as I," I said. Cholmondeley's feathers ruffled in sympathy. "Now let me in, that's a good girl, and I shan't report this affront to various and sundry Fringe board members, with whom I play whist and peasant-chess every fortnight. They will surely dock your pay, insolent wretch."
"I'm a volunteer, fuckface," she spat.
The rest of the tale is less interesting, and I refuse to say more on the advice of counsel, but the point is:
Why does Fringe, with its loosey-goosey, unjuried, gleefully slapdash, "Hey Gang, Let's Put On A Show With Dildoes" vibe, carve out this one area to impose absolute, inviolate, no-fuckin-around rules? Why does Fringe feel it can get away with such a policy, while even DC's largest houses adopt a sheepish, laissez-faire attitude toward latecomers?
And – really the point – why have so many of us missed shows this year, including (especially) Fischer? Is it the heat? The tourists? The creeping decrepitude of Metro? Fin-de-siecle ennui?
Trey Graham: Well, first of all, we're a decade into the siecle, dude. So I'm not sure what you're still bored about. Also, Julianne is THE WOMAN, which I'd think you'd have noticed, being a perceptive critic and all. Also, I believe that Goethe-Institut takes a hyphen. [EDITOR's NOTE: . . . fuck.]
But I digress. To be honest — and despite the (purely performative) little Mary Poppins lecture I gave you the other day about how "Early is on time, on time is late, late is unthinkable" — patron lateness isn't something I've been especially prim about since the day Other Half and I arrived at the Kennedy Center several minutes after the start of that Irish-import production of Godot.
Which, yes, we then had to wait for.
The seating break, I mean.
And then — I am not making this up — Other Half's cellphone rang.
So me, not so much with the stone-throwing anymore. (The glowering in the general direction of the tardy party, yes. I'm only human.)
Aaaaaaanyway, I think I talked to Julianne about the late-seating thing a few years back, because you know what? Among the unwashed Fringegoers, this is not a new topic for bitching. If I could be bothered to go dig up the post I think I may possibly have done about it in 2000-whatever — unless maybe I expired from hunger while waiting for my turkey burger at the Baldacchino and never wrote said post [EDITOR's NOTE: Verily, that must be what hath occurred.] — I believe we'd find that the answer is: It's not as strict a policy as you may think.
- Most Shows Don't Really Start On Time. There's usually a short hold built in. (This is a trade secret; we could tell people, but we'd have to kill them, because then they'd cut it even closer than they do now, the Type A shits who just need to get in that one more world-changing e-mail before they bolt from their Chinatown desks at 7:50 to hop in a cab to get to Studio, you know who I'm talking about.)
- Not All Venues Are Created Equal. You could sneak in at the Baldacchino and not disturb people unduly. Not so much at the Bedroom or Redrum. I believe this finds itself expressed in policy: Unless I'm making this up, Julianne told me that officially, the rule is no late seating, but unofficially, the venue manager is allowed a little wiggle room. (So I'm just assuming that you pissed off the nice lady at the Goethe-Institut there, Cholmondeley.)
- I Don't Really Have a Third Point Here. But two bullets looked kinda odd, so.
What I would really like to know is, what is the policy about early departure? Because the other night? When we were at Superheroes Who Are Super, and the show was really really bad and the Apothecary was roughly the temperature of a Tandoori oven? I wanted to leave midway through Act 1, but I'd have had to walk across the stage. I think you should be able to pull a cord, like on a Metrobus, and they should have to stop and let you out at the corner of the next scene.
Klimek, what say you?
Chris Klimek: Um . . . forty-two? Sorry, what were you fellows talking about? Just got here.
Yeah, sorry G-Weld, but I kind of have to concur with Trey that the you-shall-not-pass may in fact have been more precipitated by your demeanor upon approach than by Brienzanian Doctrine. My other half's show is, as you know, at the grrrrr-tah insta-whatever gallery, a venue that, like the Baldacchino, may be discreetly infiltrated after the performance has begun. But I don't think that's why the venue manager let me up there when I was late — twice! I think she was being nice in response to nice. Also, I didn't bring my falcon, Ffolkes.
I suspect the no official no-late-seating-anywhere-ever policy is there at least in part for ease of wrangling the staff, comprised largely of volunteers like the one you subjected to so orotund, and yet so impotent, a rebuke. Late-seating is a thing. It needs must be managed. The conductors thereof must be trained, because the late-sat really must be trained — trained, nay complelled to move with more rapidity and prudence (my beloved former twin falcons, both now deceased) than would be required had they arrived on time.
And it is worse this year. A lot. Promptness has always been an adversary of mine, but there are external factors. Metro's decline in the last year has been palpable.
Glen Weldon: Stuff and nonsense. I was (despite what my Unsolved Mysteries-caliber reenactment above would have you believe) my usual affable self. Affable as fuck. And still I got shut down. With extreme prejudice.
Maybe she just didn't like my face. I have been told it's less than likable.
Just two other points, both for Graham: 1. I, of course, go by the Mayan calendar, and by its reckoning our siecle is just a couple of years away from a big, explody fin, so shut it; and 2. Hyphen, schmyphen: I feel like we're meeting the Goethe folks more than halfway already, by rolling over on their quaint, Olde Worlde, vowelist approach to spelling. ("Institut", really? How cut.)
Oh, and: Your aphorism be damned: "On time" is and forever shall be ON TIME. Because that's how language works.