Of Bullying and Bystanders–Live Theatre meets Live Theatre


March 10, 2013 by readlisaread

*Disclaimer: this post has nothing to do with Information Technology in any way. It has everything to do with communication, however.

Bullying, Anti-Bullying, Acts of Kindness campaigns are everywhere recently.  There are a myriad of messages that accompany these campaigns, some of them mixed: stand up to bullies, just walk away from bullies, don’t be a bystander, don’t be provocative, don’t shame people who are provocative. This maelstrom of advice and adult-good-intentions swirls around kids throughout their K to 12 years.  And then, magically, it would appear that bullying is something one simply grows out of. Like acne. And your prom dress.

I’m going to share a recent example from my life, which was upsetting, annoying, and, as I tumbled it over and debriefed it on FaceBook, rapidly become an obvious example of Adult bullying. Do I have some culpability?  Sure.  Was I the Provocative victim in this case?  You can only trust that I tell the story without bias, but of course, I don’t know if that’s fully possible. However, as free of judgment-laden language as I can, here is my Night at the Theatre.

*************************************(Lights dim)****************************************

I purchased live theatre tickets for my family and the girl-child’s boyfriend to go to a live performance of “The Buddy Holly Story” at a local theatre. It’s a nice venue, seats only about 200, and has never been a disappointment. I try to take the kids to live theatre once in awhile, because I enjoy it, and I want them to as well.

We 5 settled into our seats, four rows up on stage right. The show started on time, just a few minutes after the row behind us filled with a group of boisterous middle aged friends. Boisterous in that happy to be going out, looking forward to having a good time, might have had a few drinks at the bar before they came in way, but not obnoxious. Besides the 3 couples sitting together in the row directly behind us, there was one younger couple sitting the row behind them, also part of the party.

The trouble began the minute the first Buddy Holly song played and two of the women began rather tunelessly and with a lack of rhythm singing along. It was tolerable, because I could still hear the performer, and, after all, they were enjoying the show.

But then…. the talking started. Oh, it was sotto voice, and it was about the show, the songs, the costumes, the theatre, but it was relentless. One of the women started to argue with her male companion about the origin of one song in particular, and finally my patience was at an end. Although both The Husband and I had turned around in that “Oh, I thought there was a problem, but I see you were just talking during a performance” pseudo-polite thing that patrons do– usually in the direction of a toddler– the talking did not cease. In exasperation– and this is my first moment of culpability–I turned around and let loose a Not Subtle “SHHH!!!”.

So, step #1, use words to tell the bully you don’t like what was happening. How could I know the man was a bully?  By what happened next….

The lights came up for the Intermission shortly after, and The Man and one of his companions started having, for lack of a better description, a “Shhh!!!” war, taking turns loudly and mockingly telling each other to Shush!  Here is my second moment of culpability. I turned in my seat, and said “Look! I paid good money for our tickets to watch a performance, not listen to you talk!”.   Here is where it gets kind of interesting, from a sociological point of view, at least. The younger woman sitting behind The Man leans forward to say “You”  (meaning me) “are the one making a scene right now!”.  The Man kept blustering about how I had no right to shush anyone, and I indicated the three teenagers I had brought with me to the show and said (culpable moment #3) “My 3 teenagers are behaving better than you are!”

Now, up until this point, I can certainly cop to a certain level of fault– yes, I was defending myself, but, I could have done a number of other things, before ever having engaged, things we tell kids all the time:  Walk away (in this case, ask to be moved to other seats), Ignore (we could have tried, but I fear the rest of the show would have been ruined for me), Told someone (got the attention of an usher and asked her to monitor The Man and his Talkative companions).

Not having the luxury of reverse time travel or prescient sight, I found myself now in the middle of a conflict. You (dear reader) may still be wondering how it is I can call The Man a Bully? His next action will confirm my diagnosis.

As I turned back away, in an effort to disengage and calm down, he loudly and clearly said:  “Bitch”.

Well. That was the tipping point. As The Husband was coming up out of his seat to my defense with an equally hostile “Hey!”, I was already re-engaged:  “Really!?  REALLY!??  You are going to call me that in front of my KIDS!?” The Man’s wife, realizing things had escalated to a Bad Place, put her hand out to me and said “No! No he isn’t!”   While he is shouting over her saying “Yes I AM”.  Despite a couple more pleas from his wife, he refused to dial down his hostility.  It was at that moment an Usher arrived and asked if there was a problem.  The Man said “No, no problem at all”  and he and most of his party got up to go to the lobby for Intermission.

The rest of the story unfolds rather anticlimactically. I went to speak to another usher about getting moved, and she and the original usher found us 5 seats together, and we elected to move, thoroughly and peacefully enjoying the rest of the show.

Here are my closing comments and connections about pack mentality, bullies and bystanders.

No one around us, who had to have been equally annoyed, stood up to say anything.  (I have been in that situation, and being afraid to make a situation worse, I haven’t waded in.  I may need to rethink that).  When The Man and the rest of the party returned, the one woman who stayed behind and witnessed our move pointed to us across the theatre, obviously telling her friends we had shifted. The Man responded to this news by looking over and making the “boo-boo wah baby crying and rubbing eyes with fists” motion. And finally, as the house lights dimmed for the second act, the whole theatre heard The Man and his friends repeating their mocking “SHHH!”   “Shhhh!!!!” game.

To fill in the picture you may have in your head, there was nothing in the appearance of these people that would have led me to believe they were anything other than nice, decently dressed grandparents. They looked like people who should know how to respect performers, and to not behave like a pack of school-yard bullies.

There is only one anecdote to complete the tale, and while it isn’t really a resolution, it made a victim of bullying feel better–leaving the theatre, the house manager stopped me to say he was sorry I had had to put up with that, and that he hoped it didn’t ruin the rest of the show for me.  I assured him we loved the show, and expressed gratitude to the staff for helping.  “Besides”, I said as we moved towards the door, “you have to understand….I’m a school teacher”.

The house manager’s words follow us out into the night with grins and a sense of victory: “Oh! So you are used to dealing with children, then!”.

*************************************(curtain down)****************************************


  1. Colleen says:

    For a few brief minutes, you were in my home office — I was listening to a wonderfully crafted piece of art — your recounting of the “Live Theatre” story. I had a smile on my face almost from start to finish. The smile was occasionally replaced with a look of horror as I read in disbelief about the bully behavior. But your storytelling ability brought back the smile, as well as caused me to contemplate your clever responses and how I could apply some of that to situations I encounter. Thanks for sharing!
    p.s. are you sure the Man was not wearing a Sasquatch mask?

  2. readlisaread says:

    Oh what a lovely comment…. and I wish I was having a cup of tea in your office with you! Your Sasquatch reference really made me smile… thanks for reading!!

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