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A 'Feverish Need To Stand': Are There Too Many Standing Ovations In Kansas City?

courtesy Todd Rosenberg Photography

If you're not standing after a live performance of classical music, theater, or musical theater in Kansas City, you might be sitting alone. 

Standing ovations are standard practice these days, and that was the topic of discussion on Thursday's Central Standard.

So when it comes to a standing ovation, why do we stand up? And when does a production deserve it?

"For me, it’s something that should be a spontaneous emotional occurrence. I really want the last note to hit and the curtain to drop and to just feel moved where I have to leap out of my seat," says Hampton Stevens, who writes for KCPT's Flatland and The Kansas City Star. "And that’s maybe happened to me, I mean, maybe, once a year."

Actor and choreographer Vanessa Severo has performed on many area stages, such as the Coterie Theatre, the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, and Spinning Tree Theatre. 

“You should be brought to tears, moved so much that you have to stand up, you cannot stay seated,” Severo says.  

But Severo says Kansas City audiences have changed since she moved here in 2002. Back then, she'd receive a standing ovation about once a year. "Now, people rise to their feet," she says. 

Linda, a caller in Leavenworth, described herself as an "amateur actress" and stands immediately after a performance.

"I'm saying, 'Thank you,' and I appreciate all the hard work that went into this production," she says.

But Jeff, who called from Merriam, says the frequency of standing ovations de-values the work.

"I think it drives more quality if you stay down," he says. "If the money comes easy, why work hard? It's the same thing for applause for performers." 

Freelance arts reporter and producer Jeff Lunden covers theater for NPR in New York City — and says Kansas City is not the only city where standing ovations are the norm. 

“That feverish need to stand is a national phenomenon,” says Lunden, who attends several shows a week. “Standing ovations are the rule, rather than the exception.” 

Ovations following a performance could be linked to a response to a live performance — and the sticker shock. Average ticket prices for theater in New York, he says, are about $150, and Broadway shows, like Hamilton, can cost about $850. 

"People are going because it's a special occasion," says Lunden. "They've invested a lot of money and time in it. It kind of amplifies the emotions that are already there." 

In Kansas City, tickets to performances are not as expensive as cities like New York. But some can still make a dent in a budget. A caller to the show, Tam, in Midtown, says she's only able to afford tickets to a few productions a year, so she's "discerning" about what she goes to see — and often very appreciative. 

Lunden points out that even though standing ovations are not rare these days, there's still a bit of magic. He told host Gina Kaufmann about audience reaction to the Broadway premiere of Come from Away, a Canadian musical set in Newfoundland the day after September 11, 2001. 

"This was one of those experiences where the moment it was over, everybody was on their feet," he says. "At the very end, they just rose as one. There was no question that this was a moving experience for everybody."

Listen to the entire Central Standard show here (the segment starts around the 16-minute mark). 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.

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