“You must be new around here,” I told Sue Scherwin.
Scherwin, 71, had written me an email suggesting that I do something to stop Kravis Center patrons from rudely leaving the hall before the performers have taken their final bows.
She estimated that 20 percent of the audience bolted early for the doors during two symphony performances she attended this month.
“What must our guest artists think of this reception?” she wrote. “I have never seen such rudeness in a theater.”
Scherwin suggested that I might have some special columnist powers to shame audiences into remaining in their seats until the end of a performance, rather than engage in a low-speed race to the Kravis parking garage.
I called to deliver the bad news.
“It can’t be done,” I said.
It would be like getting the swallows to avoid Capistrano. Getting Kravis audiences to stay in their seats is an act against nature.
The Kravis Center opened in the fall of 1992. Almost immediately, the audience’s instinct to flee became apparent.
In a review of one the center’s first concerts that year, it was noted that Florida Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus conductor James Judd scowled from the stage at the mass early exodus during Handel’s Messiah.
Within five years, the Kravis audience had earned a national reputation. Maestro Joseph Colaneri of the New York City Opera told Opera News that the Kravis is where “a sea of cauliflower” gives performers “your first walking ovation” as they leave before the music stops.
When Broadway star Audra McDonald performed there seven years ago, she joked on stage that she was going to end her show early to beat the people in the audience who were planning to leave early.
The Kravis has tried to stop the stampede by making appeals for courtesy with pre-show announcements and putting written reminders in the program. The center even considered offering a dessert bar after the shows.
I wrote that a lucky drawing at the end of the show might work.
“I firmly believe that there are many people here who would actually linger in a burning building in order to hear if the number being called match the one on the red stub they are holding,” I wrote.
But the center didn’t try that. And here we are 21 years into this problem, and a newly arrived snowbird from Alaska thinks she is delivering me a fresh headline.
Scherwin told me that she volunteers as an usher at the performing arts center in Anchorage, which has a pay parking lot that charges by the hour, and yet patrons don’t make an early stampede out of the hall.
“People here don’t realize how good you have it,” she said. “You’ve got great music and a free parking lot.”
What’s the rush?
Some Kravis patrons have defended the practice of leaving early, citing the congested shoulder-to-shoulder walk through the breezeway leading to the garage. Or the long time it sometimes takes for cars to empty the multilevel structure, which is exacerbated by the widespread inability of drivers to back out of a parking spot without making multiple lurches between drive and reverse.
“We just walk to Starbucks after the show,” said Scherwin, who is here to visit her brother, Chris, in Boynton Beach.
Maybe a promotion with Starbucks would work, she said. Or locking the doors to the garage until the show is over, she offered.
“Or you could just put seat belts on the audience,” she said. “And they don’t release until after the show is over.”
Clearly, she has given this a lot of thought. But she grossly overestimated my potential role in this.
“If they read about themselves in your column, would people realize how rude and stupid they appear so that, next time, they’ll remain in their seats until the concert is over, and the performers exit the stage?” she asked.
Like I said, she’s new around here.