cover image Right This Way: A History of the Audience

Right This Way: A History of the Audience

Robert Viagas. Applause, $29.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-493064-55-7

Viagas (I’m the Greatest Star), the editor-in-chief of Encore Monthly, misfires with this sweeping yet frequently sidetracked study of audiences, from the Acropolis in ancient Greece to the Zoom crowds of Covid-19. Leaving few stones unturned, Viagas covers changing tastes in entertainment, including movies, plays, and concerts; evolving attitudes toward such racist portrayals as blackface, which was shockingly common as recently as the mid-20th century; and the “jumble of thoughts, impressions, associations, digressions, [and] distractions” that an audience member experiences at a performance, using as an example someone watching the denouement of Romeo and Juliet for the first time (“OMG, she did it. She stabbed herself right in the freaking heart”). Viagas elucidates the unique features of live theater through telling anecdotes; for example, he recounts an incident from a 2022 Broadway production of The Music Man in which Hugh Jackman managed to stay in character in response to an audience member’s yelled advice. Unfortunately, the work suffers from erratic detours and speculations, several of which will strike readers as irresponsible: after recounting a horrific 2014 incident in which one movie patron shot and killed another who refused to stop texting during the film, Viagas suggests that those annoyed by intrusive audience behavior may feel justice was served by the killer’s acquittal. Though Viagas showcases a wealth of valuable knowledge, this is a squandered opportunity. (Oct.)