Reflecting on Heath Ledger’s ‘Joker’ Diary

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How do actors get into character? The possibilities are endless! But we can get a glimpse into the techniques Heath Ledger used to get into character of the nefarious Joker from The Dark Knight Rises. Indeed, Ledger kept a diary entitled, “The Joker” to help him fully commit to his iconic role. Although he was known to fully immerse himself in each of his parts, according to his father, Heath took it up a notch for The Joker. Locking himself up in a hotel room and then his apartment for about a month, he used the diary to “inhabit his character.” Heath once stated that by the end of those weeks he landed “in the realm of a psychopath.”

A clip from the German documentary titled Too Young to Die reveals Heath’s father, Kim Ledger, sharing some of the charismatic actor’s Joker journal. It contains handwritten notes, scrawled-out dialogue, as well as sources of inspiration including Batman comic book clips, playing cards, photos of Alex DeLearge from Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film A Clockwork Orange, and even a hyena which may have inspired the Joker’s style of disturbing laughter.

Heath explored how his dimented character would look by playing with Francis Bacon-inspired makeup to get the right look, and adding the made-up photo of himself to his diary.  Before the final days of the shoot, Heath wrote “BYE BYE” on the last page of the diary. His father said, “It was hard to see this.” Sadly, Heath passed too soon after playing The Joker due to accidental intoxication from abusing prescription drugs at the age of 28. Of course, the late Ledger won an Oscar for his terrifying portrayal of the villainous Joker.

For those of you who’d like to watch the whole Too Young to Die documentary, it’s available through Vimeo.

Dustin Hoffman’s MasterClass Offered Online

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“We’re students. The first year. The first five years. The first ten years. We’re students after fifty years.” –Dustin Hoffman, MasterClass

Renowned Method actor Dustin Hoffman is now offering an online MasterClass to teach “everything he wishes someone had taught him” about acting during his 50-year career. It’s a five-hour course designed for students of all skill levels at the price of $90. The San Francisco-based MasterClass website features an assortment of online classes lead by revered experts in their fields like Serena Williams teaching tennis, and Annie Leibovitz teaching photography.

Hoffman’s course is receiving many positive reviews from actors who are glad to gain extra acting tools to inform their performances. Students are exposed to various techniques that Dustin himself found helpful. For instance, he’s not a big fan of rehearsing lines verbally; rather, Hoffman prefers to find the rhythm of the dialogue by writing the words down. He believes this approach leads to a deep knowledge of the lines that allows for fresh deliveries when it’s time to perform. “Get the rhythm of the speech, and it starts to infiltrate your other cells,” he asserts.

The 77-year-old two-time Oscar winner refers to lessons he’s learned along the way from the legendary acting instructor Lee Strasburg, acting greats like Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall, as well as directors Mike Nichols and Barry Levinson. He directs actors in scene studies, helping them to shed their too-noticeable “acting” habits, and assists in transforming their performances into natural, compelling conversation. In addition to the video-based lessons, students are given the opportunity to be matched with nearby students to work on scenes, upload the finished product, and receive feedback from classmates via the web. The course has been reviewed as more of a scene-study class which does not go into specifics about acting before a camera the way an audition class would.

Some topics covered include Relating to Your Character; Managing Your Nerves; Critiquing Yourself; Embracing Your Vulnerability; and Great Mistakes. And there’s plenty more where that came from.

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Jon Hamm Told to “Act Like You Already Have the Part”

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In this Off Camera interview with Sam Jones, Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm acknowledges the discomforts and challenges actors often face trying to shine when auditioning before a seemingly less-than-welcoming presence in the room. But the actor-director insists, “The big secret of auditions is that, and every young person that’s auditioning should really take this to heart–and I’ve felt it when I directed as well–all you want is for the person to walk through and be great.” As he reflects upon this, Hamm accepts responsibility for the times when he came so close to getting a part but then just falling short. “And then, for whatever reason, I would just tank,” he admits.

And this disappointing scenario of coming close but not landing the part almost happened to Hamm again with the shadowy lead role of Don Draper in Mad Men. The highly acclaimed American 1960’s period drama TV series on AMC was created by Matthew Weiner. Weiner was said to be notoriously selective in regards to all aspects of the show. But indeed some high ups in the casting process were leaning toward other casting choices rather than Hamm for the role of the talented, creative advertising director.

The show initially didn’t have a lot of money attached to it, and Matthew’s vision of attaining the highest quality actor without an established name was at first appealing to production. And Weiner insists from the first audition he knew that Jon Hamm was Don Draper. Production, however, was hoping for an English actor and criticized Hamm for not being sexy enough; they questioned if he was the best guy to base the show upon being that, “Ah, he’s just some guy with a bunch of sh**** credits.” By this point, they were ready to pay big bucks for an established name. But none of these arguments swayed Weiner; he remained adamant that Hamm was in fact the right casting choice. Eventually, Matthew instructed Hamm to walk around the production offices “as if you already have the part.”

This advice basically relieved Jon from feeling like he still had to prove himself, and instead helped him to perceive himself as onboard with production and with the same goal in mind: to make Don Draper as real as possible. Did going along with the belief that he’d already succeeded impact his posture, his tone of voice, the glint in his eyes? Weiner sought to empower Hamm with whatever edge he could: his personal belief in him as well as bolstering Hamm’s self-confidence.

Fortunately for all involved, Hamm didn’t fall by the casting wayside this time around. Mad Men was a clear success going strong for seven seasons. The show has won 15 Emmys and four Golden Globes. Even Hamm’s performance earned him a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Television Drama, and he won a Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Actor.

Here’s a shout out to Weiner for taking a chance on a worthy, yet relative unknown!

Acting While on Antidepressants

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There are many schools of thought and different philosophies as it concerns the question of what makes great acting? But it is universally held that great acting starts with dynamic and sensitive emotions combined with a compelling physical presence. Actors are expected to be highly emotional and psychologically explosive. Indeed, some actors are so impassioned and creatively zealous, they sadly end up addicted to drugs or in an early grave. Think Heath Ledger or Paul Walker or Philip Seymour Hoffman or Brittany Murphy or Cory Monteith or Amanda Bynes–and the list goes on. Could these sensitive souls have benefited from antidepressant drugs? Some of them were likely taking SSRI’s or other medicines to treat depression and anxiety, but then again some of them may not have been. Taking medications is a deeply personal choice and private matter that the public need not know about. 

But what is it like having to act on stage or film while taking antidepressants or anti-anxiety tablets? Well, the answer to this question is as diverse as the individuals who takes these meds; people are not all biochemically identical, and drugs have a wide range of effects on the end user. But generally speaking, most antidepressants are meant to lift one’s mood and stabilize personality. Users commonly “feel better” and are less prone to erratic mood swings. But it is often reported that it can be more difficult to cry, to feel excitement, to relate in an emotional way, or even to feel extremes in normal experience. As a result, an actor’s ability to wear his or her proverbial “heart on your sleeve” for the benefit of audiences everywhere could be compromised.

This is certainly not to say that someone who is clinically depressed should not take medications that are available and possibly necessary to one’s happiness and survival; but, it is important to know what you are taking, and to understand the benefits and side effects of these powerful pharmaceuticals. Clearly, taking care of mental and emotional health is a priority. It is only to highlight that for actors, as their emotions are at the core of their work, have an added consideration in this regard.

If you’re thinking about taking antidepressants for depression or anxiety, make sure to consult your doctor concerning quantity and dose, and be sure to mention you’re an actor! And keep in mind, you’re in good company. Some actors have come forward to share their experiences with antidepressants. According to reports, for instance, Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm battled chronic depression after his father passed; he found that a structured environment, therapy, and antidepressants were key to pulling out of this challenging time. The outrageously expressive Jim Carrey once shared his history with depression and being on Prozac to help him pull through the hard time. And actress Lorraine Bracco, the psychiatrist from The Sopranos, has spoken openly about her battle with depression and how antidepressants and talk therapy helped her overcome it. And the list goes on and on.

Anne Hathaway Reveals Her Inner Battles with Criticism

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Anne Hathaway confessed to InStyle magazine this week that she “cries all the time.” Could this be due to the relentless onslaught of criticism and negative press she received from the “Hathahaters” since the awards season in 2013? You remember, the online critics who rambled on about how “annoying” and “inauthentic” they found her to be? The polarizing star told the magazine, “For a very long time I felt I was being hunted, and it made me very unhappy.” Fortunately, these days she is moving forward with a more positive outlook. As she puts it: “In the past few years I’ve been working on changing the script inside my head. Life’s too short to be anyone but yourself.”

It’s wonderful to hear Anne is feeling more empowered; however, her words reveal that the criticism she was experiencing was also coming from within. This can be surprising when you consider Ms. Hathaway has had a career that any actor would envy. She’s played a variety of compelling roles, received many kudos for her performances in films like Rachel Getting Married and The Dark Knight Rises, she’s been described as a box office champion, and she’s won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her role in Les Miserables. And Anne certainly has her share of vehemently supportive defenders. Still, she admitted to the magazine, “There was a stretch of my life when I wasn’t comfortable being myself. I didn’t think I was good enough. So I pretended to be someone I wasn’t.”

Currently, Hathaway certainly seems to be thriving in the spotlight as evidenced by her April cover of Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball on Lip Sync Battle. She also has an upcoming release of The Intern in which she stars with Robert De Niro, and she will reprise the role of the White Queen in Alice Through the Looking Glass to be released in 2016.

But it should be noted that the acting business can be a bit daunting for actors who haven’t received the accolades Anne has–not to mention the paychecks she’s received. This speaks to the raw emotion and vulnerability every actor faces regardless of stature or success. Actors must face the swarm of competition head on, plow through tough auditions, routinely deal with criticism and rejection; there might be times they have to navigate the emotional terrain of coming in second to landing a role of a lifetime; many actors express the pressure they feel when inhabiting differing personas and feeling the pain of each of their characters. These represent just a few of the challenges that come with being an actor … which begs the question: Is the craft of acting an inherently saddening field? And what does it say about struggling actors who are doing the same thing and not getting paid for it?

Do you, like Anne, find yourself crying easily? Along with all of the sheer joy that acting brings to your life, does it go hand-in-hand with tears? How much courage and chutzpah is required to keep moving forward as an actor?

 

Actors Who Started Out as Models

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With the increasingly competitive nature of the acting business, actors are finding that honing multiple talents is highly encouraged to get noticed. Some actors add singing and dancing to their repertoire; others delve into behind-the-scenes skill sets such as writing, producing, or directing; and some enter the industry doors through seizing their exceptionally good looks through modeling. After all, acting is a highly visual form of art, so getting your image out there is a great way to gain attention within the industry–and hopefully open even more doors!

Some actor-models start small–that is to say, at a very young age. For instance, Brooke Shields’ modeling career started when she was just eleven months old promoting Ivory soap, but she didn’t take the media by storm until playing a child prostitute at the age of twelve in Pretty Baby, and two years later appearing in controversial ads for Calvin Klein jeans which catapulted her career. Hayden Panettiere likewise started her modeling career at eleven months promoting Playskool toys. Raven-Symone Pearman modeled for Ford Models at the whopping age of two and appeared in ads for Ritz crackers and Jell-O brands before being cast in The Cosby Show at the age of three. Corbin Bleu started out in TV commercials when he was just two, and then at the ripe old age of four he became a Ford Model as well, appearing in print ads for several stores like Target and Toys R Us. And of course Lindsay Lohan worked as a fashion model with Ford Models as early as three years old.

And then there are the enviable actor-models who actually experience what so many aspiring performers dream about: they are approached on the street by talent agents. Channing Tatum was discovered by a talent scout in Miami which lead to print modeling; he gradually worked his way to traveling the globe to promote brands such as Armani and Dolce & Gabbana. Ashton Kutcher was living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa when he was discovered by a talent scout. He was so well received as a model that he competed for the title of Male Model of the Year in 1997 only to come in second place to Josh Duhamel. Similarly, Evangeline Lilly was spotted by a Ford Modeling agent when she was walking the streets of British Columbia. Although the agent gave her his business card, Lilly was hesitant to call, so waited six months before she reached out which lead to several commercials and non-speaking roles in television shows. And 16-year-old Cameron Diaz was approached by a fashion photographer while at a Hollywood party which lead to a contract with Elite and her working around the world for companies like Levi’s and Coca-Cola.

Then there are the actor-models who wait till they’ve come of age before they find modeling. Robert Pattinson’s mother worked for a modeling agency, and he ended up with a  four-year modeling career between the ages of twelve and 16. It’s been said his modeling days faded as he started to appear more masculine. And before Brad Pitt became an A-list actor, he worked odd jobs and modeled Levi blue jeans to pay the bills. James Marsden was a top model for Versace before his action role in the X-Men movies and co-starring in The Notebook. The list of actors who started in modeling is long: Djimon Hounsou, Kirsten Dunst, Leighton Meester, Jason Lewis, Katherine Heigl, Charlize Theron, Ian Somerhalder, Chad Michael Murray….Do you see your name being added to this list?

Keep in mind, sometimes modeling aspirations don’t always turn out so well. For instance, Jennifer Lawrence dabbled in modeling before she became an Oscar-winning actress. She once explained to Conan O’ Brien why her modeling days were unsuccessful. “I did stuff for Abercrombie & Fitch, but you’d never know because non of my pictures ever got released,” she admitted. When the group of models involved in the shoot were instructed to play football, Lawrence took it as an athletic challenge. “I realized that they were model footballing and I was really playing football,” she candidly shared. Fortunately, she used her competitive instincts to push forward with her acting abilities. Similarly, Angelina Jolie’s early modeling experiences never took root although her mother encouraged high-school-aged Jolie to get out there and try. Certainly this disappointment didn’t stop Jolie either. The moral of the story is: Take risks and get yourself out there!

Do people tell you that you should be a model? It very well might be worth a try!

Comedy is A Serious Craft! (Part One)

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Are you funny? Can you be funny? Can you be cast on a sitcom?

Do you have acting training, comedic instincts and what it takes to create a character, follow the sitcom formula and make casting directors, producers, directors and audiences laugh and love you? Not everybody can. Why? Because this thing called comedy is a lot harder than it looks.

Sitcom acting—being funny—is, well, a serious craft. The world of sitcoms comes with its own set of rules, its own rhythm, its own pace. Guess whose job it is to grasp this very specific format. That’s right. Yours!

This comedic formula has been passed down from generation to generation, and it’s up to the actor, to not only be able to recognize this formula, but also to embrace it and follow it…to the LETTER. Then, you have to make it funny! Sitcom acting requires you to follow a very specific technique. It requires you to be energetic, articulate and to commit to the character, the dialogue, the jokes and the interaction with other characters.

Are you scared yet? Don’t worry. If you are disciplined and if you practice, practice, practice, you can work in this incredibly rewarding industry.

The first step to becoming a successful sitcom actor is having an innate ability to act and the training to develop that talent. As an acting coach, I cannot teach someone to act if they are not born with the talent to act. No acting coach can. I call this innate ability the Acting Gene. And, yes, I know it’s not “technically” a gene (but I’m sure they’ll discover it soon). Rather, it’s your inborn, intuitive ability to act or to pretend. A good acting coach can help you tap into this gene, discover (and uncover) your gift and teach you techniques that will help you access your emotions and your imagination.

The second step to becoming a successful sitcom actor is having an innate ability to be funny. Do you have a sense of humor about yourself? Do you have a sense of humor about others? Can you find the funny in the trials and tribulations of your everyday life?

To the left of the Acting Gene is the Funny Gene (yeah, another made-up word).  If you have the Funny Gene, no matter how developed it is, I can teach you to be a sitcom actor. It’s like any other skill. You need to have a physical gift to play basketball, a good ear to play the violin, a keen mind to be a mathematician, or a green thumb to be a gardener. Like any craft, it won’t be easy. But once you learn rules of comedy, and get a character that suits you best, you’ll have fun and get many well-deserved laughs in reruns!


 

Whether you’re auditioning for a co-star or a series regular on a half hour comedy, sitcom guru and acting coach Scott Sedita will teach you The Sedita Method of sitcom acting, which comes with it’s own terminology, coined phrases and unique glossary.

Scott’s internationally best-selling book, “The Eight Characters of Comedy. A Guide to Sitcom Acting & Writing, 2nd Edition” has sold over 100,000 copies and has become a “bible” to Hollywood comedy writers, directors, producers, and actors; and is used as a textbook in over 100 colleges and universities. Find Scott and his staff of professional actors, teachers and coaches at ScottSeditaActing.com.

Scot_Sedita_logo© Ron Rinaldi Photography www.ronrinaldi.com

 

My Truth Is Different Than Your Truth

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There is a phrase that I love… “The Precision of Pain, the Blurriness of Joy.” This phrase hits on a universal truth. When we are joyous (our natural state), all seems well and flowing.

The flow stops with the awareness of pain. It is often challenging to do anything without healing what is causing the pain. School is in session.

As actors, we can use this as our gateway drug into the character. Our actor’s instrument, if sensitive enough and trained correctly, responds to a false moment as if it were pain. We are out of the flow of truth. This is our unconscious letting us know that we have encountered a locked door to the mansion of the character, that when opened – will reveal a whole other wing that we may not have even knew existed. Using a different intention, a different tactic, playing opposites, or building in a stronger backstory are various ways to go through the problem without skirting the opportunity.

As in all areas of our life, if a problem presents itself and we choose to ignore it, the lesson will continue getting louder and louder, more and more painful. We might as well deal with the problem in it’s infancy (and before it buys a gun!).

A brilliant performance is simply the accumulation of many small brilliant moments. If one moment is false or faked, the audience loses trust in us. As one of my Gurus, Judge Judy, always says “if you lie to me once, I can’t believe anything that you say.”

The truth isn’t casual or easy, but it is interesting. We don’t get truth from our journalists, politicians or religions. The actor’s job is to bring the truth to the table. We make the imaginary true, which is not the same as lying. Not the same at all. Lying is just saying words, acting is living truthfully in imaginary circumstances as if it were happening to you for the first time in the given moment (and that is much easier said than done).

My truth is different than your truth. I believe in God and find evidence of his existence everywhere. Someone else is an Atheist and finds evidence of his non-existence everywhere. Who has a stronger grip on the truth? The reason that we love certain actors is that their sense of truth aligns with ours and we REALLY believe them. Actors stock-in-trade is truth, it is our everything.

The world needs truth now, more than ever. Please share yours.


 

Jeffery Marcus has worked as an actor on television series’, in features films, on Broadway and regional theaters. He has taught acting classes and coached in Los Angeles for over 25 years, and also does media coaching for celebrities and executives. Visit him at JeffreyMarcus.com.

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Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘The Revenant’ Shoot Described as ‘A Living Hell’

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Are there any actors who have managed to avoid off-screen horror stories during shoots from time to time? If so, consider yourself lucky! With all personalities and relationships among the cast and crew members, and the wide array of technical aspects to filmmaking, the possibilities of what can go wrong is virtually endless. In the case of the film The Revenant which is still in production, some crew members are describing it as the worst shoot they’ve ever been on by far, and one person even called the shoot “a living hell.”

Ironically, The Revenant is an epic survival story. It’s a western thriller based on the actual experiences of a fur trapper named Hugh Glass in the early 19th century played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Mad Max Tom Hardy co-stars. Birdman director Alejandro G. Inarritu co-wrote the script and is directing the ambitious production. So what has been going so terribly wrong?

First of all, principal photography commenced in October 2014 and Inarritu anticipated it would end in about April or May; but, now it’s looking like it will wrap in August. This has taken the budget from $95 million to an anticipated $135 million or more.

The film is being shot only with natural light. Inarritu spoke about the difficult time constraints this arrangement creates, explaining that “shooting in such remote far-away locations … by the time we arrive and have to return, we have already spent 40-percent of the day.”

The storyline is set in extremely harsh, snowy conditions, and was originally going to be shot in Canada. But when Canada’s weather was not obliging, the crew was forced to find bitter cold much further south; that is, on the tip of Argentina where penguins find the temperatures comfortable.

Then there are a number of specific incidents like a naked character who was to be dragged on the ground for several takes, and an actor who was immersed in freezing water with a faulty dry suit which lead to him needing medical care after the scene. And there were times when the actors would block out scenes, and then they’d end up shooting something different from what they had rehearsed. Some described the director as temperamental and indecisive.

Because so much had gone wrong, many people had been griping along the way. As a result, many either quit or were fired–including one of the film’s producers, Jim Skotchdopole who successfully worked with Inarritu on Birdman, but who was apparently banned from The Revenant set, and then was replaced. Skotchdopole in particular has received harsh criticism for not preparing or communicating properly; in one instance, he had the cast and crew fly via helicopter to a forest location, and once they arrived, the landscape had unusable lighting.

“If we ended up in greenscreen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of s***. … When you see the film, you will see the scale of it. And you will say, ‘Wow.'” Inarritu told The Hollywood Reporter. He feels that the complaints about the shoot are exaggerated, and he stands behinds the decisions he’s made along the way.

The Revenant is scheduled to be released on December 25, 2015.

How does this shoot compare to your worst experiences on set? And all in all, in your experience, are hellish shoots worth the effort in the end?

 

What Audience Behavior Do You Find Most Annoying?

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Whether a performer is acting, doing comedy, singing, playing an instrument or dancing before a live audience, he or she hopes to get absorbed in the material and to some degree forget people are observing. But how can a performer focus well when an audience member is continually talking, checking texts, or hasn’t turned off the ringer on a cellphone?

Well, Broadway veteran Patti LuPone has had enough of rude audience behavior! During a recent evening performance in New York City, she was distracted by a member of the audience who was texting while the Tony Award-winning actress was attempting to sing her heart out. “We work hard on stage to create a world that is being totally destroyed by a few, rude, self-absorbed, and inconsiderate audience members who are controlled by their phones. They cannot put them down,” LuPone said in a statement to Playbill.com.

So how did LuPone handle the situation? Remaining true to her character while playing the role of an artistic director, she keenly found an opportunity to make a dramatic statement. That is, at the part where she normally interacts with people who are sitting in the front row, the 66-year-old actress instead headed toward the woman who was holding the glowing LED screen. “I shook her hand with one hand and took her phone with the other. Took it. I didn’t grab. I thought, ‘Holy s*@#, that was easy,'” she said to the New York Daily News.

LuPone confessed, “I am so defeated by this issue that I seriously question whether I want to work on stage anymore. Now I’m putting battle gear on over my costume to marshall the audience as well as perform.” Indeed, this is not the first time the famous actress has confronted an audience member. In 2009, she stopped the show mid-song in the musical Gypsy. “Stop taking pictures right now! You heard the announcement. Who do you think you are?!” She demanded, and was met with enthusiastic claps from some in the audience.

There seems to be a steady stream of complaints from performers about inconsiderate behaviors originating from just one or two of those present who negatively impact the majority of viewers and the performers. During a particularly intimate and poignant scene in A Steady Rain, Hugh Jackman stopped mid-scene when a cell phone repeatedly rang; staying in character he told the offending person to answer his or her phone. In another instance, conservative writer Kevin Williams reacted to a woman’s speaking on her cell phone during a performance by taking it and chucking it across the New York theater and into the curtains. And earlier this month, just before the production started, a man in the audience tried to charge his phone using a fake on-stage electrical outlet at Broadway’s Hand to God. In turn, an announcement was made for the owner of the phone to come retrieve his phone. Now that’s a walk of shame! With the advent of modern technology, ushers are increasingly being put in the tricky position of policing paying customers over what would seem to be clearly unacceptable behavior for a theater setting.

So, in your experience, what has bothered you the most: Clapping or yelling out at inappropriate times, excessive coughing or talking, camera flashes, late entrances or early departures, someone shushing too loudly, or maybe seemingly endless crinkling of plastic packaging? And what do you think is the best way to handle these situations?

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