Opening Applause for Celebrities?

Should David Schwimmer be applauded the moment he appears on stage?
Should David Schwimmer be applauded the moment he appears on stage?

Should audiences applaud celebrities at the beginning of a show?

I was struck recently at the response at two different plays, when a handful of people started to applaud David Schwimmer (in “Detroit” at Playwrights Horizons) and Jake Gyllenhaal (in “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet” at Laura Pels Theater), when they first appeared on stage. Both are in ensemble productions, and the tentative applause died out quickly, as if killed by the glare of the rest of the audience.

So should audiences clap their hands for performers before they’ve done anything?

“Count me as a NO,” replied New York Times critic Jason Zinoman (@zinoman). “Always makes me think of The Fonz.”

“Yes briefly,” said educator Donalda A. McCarthy (@MissDonni). “It’s a sign of encouragement,” added improv artist Amelia B. (@Mealz1042). “I think an audience-actor rapport is important for a show’s energy.”

“No,” answered Goodman Theater artistic director Robert Falls (@RobertFalls201), “but it’s human nature. We’ve always been a celebrity culture.”

Other replies:

Director Daniel Bourque (@Danfrmbourque ): “Opening Hand Syndrome” is VERY annoying. In the name of ensemble and against celebrity worship: No.

Actress “T” (@tambobambo): Brilliant actors who are celebrities, yes I guess? I’d applaud Kevin Spacey but not Paris Hilton

“Aspiring song and dance woman” Noelle Martone (@NoelleMartone17): Only the ones with talent 😉

Staci Vanderwiel (@swaxie): I feel like it’s disrespectful not to, but I find the applause very distracting.

Actor Andy Massingham (@andymassingham): Puts the play on pause. Good or bad,that feeling is always palpable. I’ve seen it work and sat through the AGONY of it not working

“Gay male atheist” Karen Wilson (@akakarenwilson): Depends on the piece. A good director will make sure the audience knows whether or not to applaud.

Theatermaker Ian Hill (@GeminiCollision): A book on their Hamlet says that actor Richard Burton and director John Gielgud tried unsuccessfully to avoid opening applause.

Director Kevin Laibson (@kevinlaibson): It messes up the rhythm of the show, and other actors can’t like it much

“HK” (@uglyfloralblaus): I don’t want to be pulled out of the play. I’d rather show my respect at the end.

Actor Michael Pereira ‪@AllAboutMichael Depends if they have a history of being brilliant or not

Steven Van Zile (@‪StevenVanZile): Yes. Gets it off everybody’s minds and writers can work it in.

Miles Lott (@mlottjr) Does the opening applause come from genuine excitement and appreciation or is it becoming obligatory, like standing ovations?

Performing and reviewing duo Andrew Andrew (‪@AndrewAndrew): Just like “ovation inflation” it seems people think opening applause compulsory. Why clap for a sofa on a set?


The Globe and Mail of Canada has published two articles one pro to entrance applause, one con

A star enters, we clap. What’s the problem? by J. Kelly Nestruck

When a famous performer – whether lowbrow like Alan Thicke or highbrow like Christopher Plummer – walks on stage, the waking dreamworld is broken for a moment whether you want to admit it or not. Entrance applause seems to me a natural acknowledgment of that rupture, especially since so many of us really go to the theatre for two reasons: to see a particular actor and to see the show they’re in.

Hold your applause unti an actor deserves it by Kate Taylor

I object to entrance applause because it is a nasty manifestation of a celebrity-obsessed culture that, tautologically, takes an actor’s fame as a measure of his achievement rather than judging his current performance. It is kind of a consumer issue:

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Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

5 thoughts on “Opening Applause for Celebrities?

  1. At least some members of the audience gave Bryan F. O’Byrne applause when he walked on stage, unless they mistook him for Jake who comes out later. But although I hate opening applause, I was glad that Bryan got some! But really can you imagine NOT giving entrance applause to Stritchie in “A Little Night Music” or Lansbury in “The Best Man.” Those are unfortunately givens. I’m glad I didn’t catch this revival of “Best Man” — the entrance applause for Jones, Laroquette, etc., must have been very annoying. “let’s see who we can applaud for next!”

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