Saturday, July 24, 2010

theater etiquette

this week has been especially exciting because my mom is visiting ... and the visit, so far, has probably given me enough blog fodder for about two months ... but more time spent out playing means less available writing time.  in any case, today, for example, she treated us to mamma mia on broadway.  much fun.  let's just say that men + bright spandex + abba is sure to entertain.

however, today's topic is theater etiquette.  listen, new yorkers and guests to our fine city, let's give everyone an opportunity to enjoy the show.  have you ever sat through a movie or show and had your theatrical experience enhanced by the not so rhythmic kicking of your seat by a child sitting behind you?  that can be so annoying and can really put a damper on your evening.

i'm so glad that the only child near me was sitting to my left, and was truly a model of perfect behavior.  she was probably 12, sat still throughout the performance, and was even privy to, and complied with, the little known secrets of the appropriate times to clap during a performance.   i was fortunate to not have any annoying little adhd cases kicking my seat.

the tall, most likely swedish family sitting in front of us was nearly equally charming - a mom, a dad, 2 teenage/young adultish boys, and a teenage girl.  mom and daughter were obviously engaged in the show, whereas the boys appeared to be good-naturedly indulging the ladies' interests.  during intermission, dad commented (in english) that he was glad his daughter was enjoying the show, but she was probably enjoying it more than he was.  but he said it with a big, genuine smile.  it was kind of charming.  he seemed like such a nice man.  i felt kind of badly that i had to subject him to a little theater discipline.

if you've ever been in a theater, you know that seats are staggered.  there is a reason for this.  by staggering the seats, one can (theoretically) see between the heads of the two people sitting in front of them.  it's a good system ... if people cooperate.  however, it defeats the purpose when someone leans slightly to one side and cocks their head about 90 degrees in the same direction.  and you see, when dad did it, he moved his cranium directly into my line of sight.

at first, i became extremely annoyed, sighed loudly, and motioned to j, who whispered he was sorry i couldn't see and offered to switch seats with me.  i declined because i didn't want him to miss out and because i didn't want to be disruptive to everyone behind me.  i sat, vainly hoping dad was just stretching his neck and would return it to a more natural position.  unfortunately, it soon became clear that the rightward head lean was dad's preferred show-watching stance.  so i sighed again, craned my neck, and most likely obstructed the view of those behind me.  i employed this strategy for about 10 minutes.

and then an idea struck me, and i nearly kicked myself for not having thought of it earlier.  instead, i placed my foot gently against the back of dad's seat.  i slid my foot as far to the left as i could (recall, a child was my neighbor to the left).  then, my foot in place, any time that dad crooked his neck to the right, i ever so gently kicked his chair .. and kept giving him little taps until he straightened out his neck. in the beginning, sometimes i had to amplify the little love taps to a full-fledged kick - but only a couple times.  dad was a pretty quick study.  by intermission, he was sitting with head in proper orientation to body for the vast majority of the time.  following intermission, i only had to tap his chair a few times.  

this, my friends, is called operant conditioning.  i conditioned the man to behave in an appropriate manner by punishing (i.e., providing an aversive stimulus to) him every time he misbehaved, and removing the punishment when he behaved properly. not only did i manage to maintain the integrity of the staggered seating system, but as a special bonus, i also helped dad avoid the killer tension headache that might have otherwise emerged from his neck-crooking behavior.

to the well behaved girl beside me, i really apologize that your sterling image may have been the casualty of my experiment.  you really were such a model citizen.