I had had a brief encounter with the dress code previously at the Cultural Centre, or rather my wife did, so I went last week forewarned this time. I had on my black dress pants, my comfortable Ceco leather shoes instead of slippers, and, the coup de grâce, my fancy Sausalito print shirt – your boy was so sharp, to come close to me was to risk getting cut. I had a lovely unexpected chat in the lobby with a young Tradewinds fan from Buxton, and on top of that I was going to the Link Show, so I was in a good mood, and then I met the nice lady taking my ticket in the auditorium. I say, “nice”, because she did say it nicely but she said, “Please put your shirt in your pants.” It took a couple seconds to sink in. I said, nicely back, “Madam, you realize I could go to almost any theatre in the world dressed like this? I could go to the White House so.” The nice lady smiled, and said, “Sorry, it’s the rule.” So Buxton and I dutifully tucked in our shirts. I could have made more of a fuss, but I knew the lady was simply following orders; she actually looked embarrassed. Ironically, I wasn’t wearing a belt on my pants, so with my shirt tucked in, I was going in there, in my view, looking kind of half-dressed (my mother would have disowned me) but that was clearly not against the rules. It also occurred to me: what if I was wearing a shirtjac, not tucked into my pants? Do I pass? At any rate, I just let it go. But here’s the point, or rather, two points.
In the first place, if the folks at the Centre feel the need to impose dress codes, they need to look around at the society – today. Not in 1965, today. They will notice that mankind eats different foods today; we move faster, work harder, and play harder; we travel more, see more and experience more; and we dress differently. What was considered taboo 45 years ago is totally acceptable today. So to say females in sleeveless dresses are not allowed in the Cultural Centre, or that jeans are a no-no, or that certain fabrics, yes, fabrics, are banned, and that stockings are mandatory for certain dresses, must be a shock for the mass of this society who dress that way everywhere every day.
The argument, I’ve heard, is that this is the national theatre and we should show respect, but the problem there is who determines when a person, properly dressed by today’s standards, somehow reaches some arbitrary disrespect level, and what criteria are the rule-makers using? Most people would go along with restrictions based on the obvious – no flip flops; no T-shirts; no beachwear; etc – but once we get into wider limitations on fashions and styles, not to mention fabrics and the astonishing requirements for stockings (would you believe that the Cultural Centre has them for rent?) we are approaching if not already enmeshed in the ridiculous.
Holding the fort on standard should be based on common sense – the dress code at the Cultural Centre has gone past common sense into hilarity.
Having said that, here’s the other point: the Cultural Centre needs to get its priorities right. Before they worry about my wife’s blouse being sleeveless, they should first fix the sound system. Because the speaker stacks are placed at far right and far left, patrons in the first few rows of the theatre, on the first floor, are actually sitting in an acoustic dead spot. It’s lovely viewing, but you can’t hear the dialogue clearly. If an actor ends up down stage, 15 feet from you, it’s fine, but anywhere where miking comes into play, you often lose the thread, particularly if the actor is speaking upstage. The musical numbers in the Link, energetically performed mind you, were lost on me in the front. On the second floor, the acoustic problem in shows is worse; patrons up there are frequently shouting out “can’t hear you,” and I know of cases of people who give up and leave Cultural Centre shows at the interval. Indeed, when the theatre is not full, patrons with upstairs tickets are moved to the ground floor for this reason.
Rather than being concerned about the look of my shirt, the Cultural Centre needs to do something about the mosquito patrons who clearly live with impunity in the theatre. At certain times of year, you can actually see the insects hovering over the heads of people in front of you. Clearly, the mosquitoes are properly dressed and probably enjoying the show between bites. Perhaps the reason for the insects is that the money being paid to spray the theatre is going instead to people checking sleeve length and the stockings-for-ladies rule in front. Come to think of it, the blouses-with-sleeves rule is probably a good idea; it provides some protection from the bites.
I don’t know who’s responsible for creating these rules, and frankly I don’t care; this is not a matter of blaming anybody; it’s about a situation we should address, and I’m addressing the good people at the Cultural Centre here: “Your emphasis should be on making the facilities of the Centre better than they are now so that the experience inside is fulfilling; that should be your priority for the national theatre – high quality facilities, and a pricing structure that encourages professional theatre groups to use it. I know enough about theatre to know that there are going to be people who will arrive there for shows dressed as if they’ve just come from the backdam, and no reasonable person would blame you for refusing them. That minority aside, for the rest of the folks who show up in generally accepted good dress you don’t want them going home disappointed or angry because they didn’t have the right stockings, or the shirt in the pants.”
It just occurred to me that a Link Show skit based on the dress code contortions at the entrance would be a great item; the audience would be rolling. (I’ll write it for free, Ron and Gem.) As it often happens in life, common sense may prevail if we can arrange for the Cultural Centre folks to laugh at themselves in the very theatre they run for us.