What's that noise?

A scientific analysis of the phenomenon.
Based on anecdotal evidence--like all good analysis :)

© D.P. O'Sullivan

"If you achieve success, you will get applause, and if you get applause, you will hear it. My advice to you concerning applause is this; enjoy it but never quite believe it."
-Robert Montgomery.

Applause means whatever you want it to mean which means there are as many meanings to applause as there are performers and audience members combined.

Performers see it as:

Audiences see it as:

To discover the real meaning in applause, we need to examine a typical applause profile. We analyze this applause profile for clues to the performance, to the audience, and how one connects with the other.

Key to the illustration

Symptoms, causes, and cures

What follows is a summary of our findings regarding applause profiles and related audience behavior. This data was arrived at after much research. We also include some advice as to how to correct a deviant applause profile.

Silence Too short (<2secs) Audience has been expecting the ending for at least 10 minutes. Rewrite the ending.
too long (>6secs) Audience has fallen asleep or is in shock. Select more rousing exit music.
Attack too steep Audience is full of relatives. No cure needed.
too shallow Revise your comp ticket policy. Give more comps to relatives.
Plateau too short (<10secs) Performers left the stage too early. Learn to milk more applause.
too long (>10mins) That's not applause. It's intergalactic static on someone's cell phone being amplified by the shape of the auditorium. Ban all electronic devices from the auditorium.
Drop-off too steep (<5secs) Audience is applauding because it feels it has to. Get a new show.
too shallow (>15secs) The audience does not want to leave. Did you forget Act III? Maybe the theater is too comfortable. Hire a stage manager and a 300-pound floor manager.
Die too early Audience suddenly realizes the futility of it all.
too late Audience came as a group and wants to prolong the feeling of comradeship.
too steep There are only three people in the audience. For cure, refer to cure for "Attack too shallow."
too shallow This never happens.
Gathering too short (<2mins) The audience is poor. It has no coats, umbrellas, magazines, books, bags, overshoes.
too long (>5mins) The performance exhausted the audience. Hire busboys to bus the garbage out with the audience.
Leaving too early (<2mins) Last bus is about to leave. Discuss your options with the bus company.
too late (>10mins) The audience already left but you failed to notice. Learn to be more perceptive.


What happened here? Can you decide what is the most likely cause of the following applause profiles?

1. No silence and no gathering. Early die.
2. No attack, plateau, drop-off, or die.
3. No detectable sound or motion.


1. A few possible causes here:
a) A very hostile, unemotional, and apathetic audience. This is the worst possible profile [except for 2 and 3 below]
b) Curtain light cue came too early. When the actor delivered the last line in the dark, the audience was already clapping.
c) Someone needed to get out fast and called "Fire!" after one minute of plateau. The remaining curve indicates a stampeding audience.
2. No audience but the show went on.
3. No audience, show was cancelled. You are alone in the theatre. Go home.