How much is a standing ovation worth these days?


I finally made it to “Caroline, or Change” at the Guthrie Theater last night. The show has received several rave reviews, and according to David Hawley at MinnPost, it’s “one of those transcendent events that one experiences only rarely in a lifetime of going to the theater.”

So it should be of no surprise that “Caroline, or Change” received a standing ovation at the end of the evening. Goodness knows Minnesota audiences tend to err on the side of a standing ovation, even when it’s more to say “good job, nice try.” What struck me was the nature of the ovation. When Greta Oglesby (Caroline) walked out on stage, there was a simultaneous surge of energy throughout the theater as everyone leapt to their feet and roared with applause and cheers. It was the most sudden and unanimous ovation I’d ever experienced.

I left wondering if a theater’s performance should no longer be judged by whether or not it earns a standing ovation, but by some more refined tool that could break down ovations into different types. “Ah yes, you received an ovation that registered a 3.4 on the richter scale – that translates to a C+ rating…”

  • Marianne: You may be on to something. Here was my own take on the subject a year ago:

  • I’ve experienced a few of those truly spontaneous standing ovations and it has reinforced my feeling that standing ovations should be reserved for performances that are so moving, so wonderful, so hilarious, so virtuosic, or so “something” that you simply cannot stay in your seat. You are compelled to stand.

    Which means that now I’m that annoying theater snob who stays seated while everyone else is standing at the end of a show. Because it really does mean something to me to stand.

    The night I saw Caroline, it was very similar to your description, people remained seated and then leapt to their feet when Greta Oglesby came out – I also burst into tears.

    I love your new blog, Marianne!

  • What really bugs me, more than the ubiquitous standing ovation, is the mandatory encore at rock shows. I’ve seen far too many bands play their set and then pretend to leave only to stand in the wings waiting for the audience to rally, make some noise and goad them to come back. The problem is, it’s totally forced. I’ve been to shows where the demand for a band to come back out is luke warm at best, but the sound guys won’t bring up the house lights or turn on some music letting you know it’s time to leave. We all just have to play along even if some of us would rather go home.

    That being said, it would be really awesome to be part of a crowd where the house lights did come up, some music started playing but the audience was so into the last band that they actually convince a band that was about to turn in for the night to come out and play a few more songs.

  • Leah

    I’ve been one of those theater snobs who usually sits while everyone stands all my life, and yes I loved that sensation of true exuberance at Caroline or Change too. But, on the other hand, lately I’ve given in and joined a few audiences for a 2.3 richter scale ovation, and I have to say that after sitting passively for two hours while artists give me a whole universe of action, it’s just feels good to stand with the audience in a communal act of gratitude. So that’s nice also.

  • Marianne Combs

    I also noticed an interesting phenomenon at a recent Minnesota Orchestra concert. The majority of the audience was applauding, with perhaps 25% standing (I blame this more on the age of the average attendee than anything else). Then there was a smaller but noticable group of folks who didn’t even wait for the applause to end before making a run for the exit. Is it that important to get out of the parking lot first?

  • Great column. Standing ovations have become so overused that it’s now a cliche. They should be strictly reserved for truly outstanding and excellent performances only.