Yesterday, on my way back from a silent movies from the 20's playing at the Gallery of Art ("Sunrise" a masterpiece by Murnau), I walked in front of a theater. People were hurrying inside, obviously it was curtain time. I liked the unplanned nature of going to see a play after a movie so I went up to the box office. They were sold out but I got a $10 standing ticket. Theater for the price of a movie ticket.
There are about 10 people with standing-only tickets. A eclectic mix of students, old people and a couple of professional looking people. A red hair woman comes to us and explain the rules: we are to stand where we chose to on the sides of the theater hall and under no
circumstances should we seat without her permission. Everybody nods their agreement to the rule: "We will not sit unless directed by her to do so."
Once all the ticket holders have entered the hall, we are finally allowed inside. Some are rushing to find a good spot. I stay almost at the top of the theater hall, with a centered and un-obstructed view of the stage. A woman comes to stand next to me. She looks embarrassed to be standing here and proceeds to explain that her friend mentioned the play today so she didn't have time to get a ticket. I smile. No excuse necessary.
The play begins. I can see people shifting their feet from time to time. Intermission comes and the woman disappears in the crowd. The break is short. I find her standing at the same place when I get back. She says "My friend told me that the seat next to him is empty." I smile thinking of the sort of friend who would let her stand while sitting comfortably with an empty seat on his side. "So why aren't you going to seat there?" I ask. " Because the woman has forbidden us to do so" she answers a little puzzled by my question.
I must be the only one to consider that arbitrary rules are made to be broken when common sense runs against them. It made sense to enforce the rule at the beginning of the play because one could not know if or when the person entitled to this seat would show up. It makes no sense at all to enforce it after the intermission because it is clear that no one will show up now. This seat is going to stay empty until the end of the play.
I smile again and encourage the woman. "The rule was meant for the first part of the play. Now you can seat next to your friend. You don't have to ask permission." She is still not convinced.
"Are you sure?" "Look", I say, "If someone does show up, just stand up and you'll be back where you were before. It's not such a big deal".
She is clearly attracted to the thought of sitting for the next hour but still hesitant to break the rule. I give her the final incentive. "If you're not going to sit next to your friend, let me know where he is sitting and I will gladly take the seat". That does it. She looks at me and says "No, no, that's ok. I'll go and sit there. Thank you very much, thank you so very much!". She leaves, thanking me again and again to have given her the strength or the incentive to break that small rule. Anarchy! one rule at the time...
After the play, it is quite late and I am waiting for the bus to come. There are a group of kids walking toward me. They're all dressed up in cheap suits and looked like they've just escaped from the set of "Bugsy Malone". They're smoking and trying their best to look tough. It's almost touching.