Go to a Broadway show these days and, no matter how dreary the production, you can usually count on the vast majority of audience members slavishly leaping to their feet for a standing ovation, as if it's a responsibility that comes along with their ticket purchase. So let's be clear: It's not. In fact, as far as we're concerned, during the curtain call it is well within every theatergoer's rights to boo to their hearts' content. But today the genteel NY Times isn't quite so sure if it is.

In a fun post, Philadelphia City Paper critic David Fox looks at the recent history of booing (which is/was more common at the opera) and proposes a few rules for how one can express their displeasure with a show—something which “Miss Manners’ Guide for the Turn-of-the-Millennium” author Judith Martin says is okay since, "if we are encouraged to applaud, we also must be allowed to boo." Anyway, here are his suggestions:

If I were going to boo now, I’d establish clear ethical guidelines, including separating mere incompetence (which is just sad, and doesn’t deserve further censure), from egregious sins like grandstanding, upstaging, and generally pandering. And I would maintain that booing during a performance is playing dirty—it dampens everything that follows. Instead, wait for the curtain call, which after all is by definition a forum for audience expression. Make sure booing implicates only its specific target. Performers often bow in groups, and there’s already too much collateral damage in the world.

Finally, I’d consider alternative punishment. Not clapping at all is similarly disapproving, and it’s more elegant. And there’s always the option of leaving early, which is showy and has the additional advantage of sparing an unhappy audience member further misery. A wise friend who is also a frequent early-exiter calls this his “life is too short” rule.

And as far as ground rules go, those seem pretty fair. If you want to boo, by all means boo. But wait until the show is over. People up on stage worked hard, for better or worse, and should be given the chance to do their thing (unless they ask the audience to participate, then all is fair). We think that Fox's alternative though is a little flawed. Theatergoers who care enough to boo are a rare breed, and if they instead simply don't clap there is no reason for the rest of the audience, already at their feet whooping and hollering, to even realize there might have been a problem. And if they don't find out then that not everyone in the auditorium thought they got their $150 worth, how will they ever learn? Instead when it comes to jeering we were raised to be firm believers in the hiss, which can cut right through most applause and whose source is harder to pinpoint in a crowded theater.

Oh, and while we are on the topic of theater etiquette: Standing ovations are for exceptional performances and productions. If you find yourself standing up at more than, let's be generous, a quarter of the performances you go to, you are either the luckiest theatergoer ever or you are doing it wrong.