#2. A Ballet
In the eyes of the average person, ballet is little more than a surefire cure for insomnia, despite consisting largely of flexible girls in revealing clothing. Composer Igor Stravinsky knew this, and wanted to set some space between himself and his boring-ass brethren. So, when he composed his 1913 Rite of Spring ballet, he figured he'd give the audience something different. Supervillain different.
We assume he put on an extravagant costume and wildly exaggerated all his movements.
First, he made it all about pagan rituals and sacrifice. And instead of the laid-back simplicity that was the trend at the time, he decked out the stage in eerie, primitive-looking set pieces. As for the dance itself, he and his choreographer opted for jerking, violent movements instead of the smooth, distilled boredom you normally associate the art form with.
"My inspiration? The feeling of constant queasiness that comes from an inner ear imbalance."
Then he just unleashed the whole thing unto the unsuspecting ballet crowd, possibly cackling maniacally behind a metal mask throughout.
The Paris premiere for Stravinsky's ballet didn't go as smoothly as planned.
After just a couple of minutes of discordant music and spastic dancing, the crowd began to boo and make catcalls. The orchestra got pissed at this, so they started screaming back at the boo birds (which, in our opinion, would have made the price of the ticket more than worth it). Soon, people were throwing stuff in the orchestra pit and at the dancers.
All that jerking around was perfect for dodging missiles.
As pocket watches and fancy waistcoats were launched at their targets, the people in the audience who were actually enjoying the ballet got annoyed. So they started punching the people who were throwing stuff at other people. You can probably see where this is heading.
Choreographed fight sequence!
Insults, spitting and fisticuffs ensued among these sophisticated patrons of the ballet. Men grabbed their opera canes and started walloping everyone over the head. Police arrived, but were unable to do anything much to stop the fighting. Gentlemen with waxed mustaches nobly exchanged duel cards so they could nobly shoot each other in the face later.
And through all of this, the show went on. The orchestra kept playing (sadly, they did not switch to Yakety Sax). The dancers kept on dancing, while their choreographer shouted directions in the sidelines, completely ignoring the fact that fists were flying and blood was spewing.
By intermission, the whole thing had turned into a full-scale riot. Rite of Spring, by the way, lasts about half an hour. This means it took a whole 15 minutes for the Paris audience to start mauling each another into hamburger over a ballet.
Nowadays, you can turn the whole thing into a sex parable without anyone batting an eyelid.
Subsequent performances of the piece went mostly without incident, and earned Stravinsky quite a bit of acclaim. Eventually, Walt Disney included The Rite of Spring in his film Fantasia, thus cementing the piece's place in history and making it totally violence-free and family-friendly once and for all.
Oh, wait ... shit.
#1. A Shakespeare Play
In the 1840s, the United States managed to punch its main antagonist at the time, Britain, where it hurt the most: in their Shakespeare. Namely, America produced its first Shakespearean actor actually worth a damn: Edwin Forrest. He soon developed a rivalry with the biggest British thespian of the day, William Charles Macready. The two engaged in a bitter contest about which one could produce a more confused Hamlet, or a more star-crossed Romeo.
Forrest proved to be the more dickish of the two, following Macready around and dissing him after his performances. It is worth noting that said performances took place in Britain, speaking ocean-sized volumes of Forrest's determination to undermine his foe.
The American's transatlantic stalking-and-trash-talk game got so heated that Macready was actually kind of afraid to visit New York, where he was due to perform in 1849. He decided to go anyway, because hey, it's just theater. What's the worst that could happen?
Falling chandeliers and a whole bunch of murders, if we know our theater.
The actors' feud was far from a two-man rivalry. Each had a rabid fanbase, and when you take into account the post-war enmity between the citizens of the two nations, the situation was a freaking powder keg.
Macready gave his all in NY, despite being pelted with rotten eggs and potatoes by Forrest's fans whenever he performed. The Brit persevered, and calmly headed for his Grand Finale: He would perform Macbeth in his venue, Astor Place, the very same night Forrest was doing the same elsewhere.
Talk about unlucky, hey? Hey? Macbeth?
Forrest's supporters bought hundreds of tickets to Macready's performance. Most were denied entrance -- presumably because the theater's attendants smelled their cache of potatoes and rotten eggs -- but stayed anyway, loitering outside the theater. The crowd of Macready bashers outside swelled to over 10,000. Soon enough, they started throwing rocks at the theater and getting into fights with policemen, who were trying to tell them to keep calm because it's only freaking Shakespeare.
At which point the few Forrest supporters that managed to get inside the theater tried to set the place on fire.
"Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and OH CHRIST I'M ON FIRE."
Despite pyromaniacs inside and a rabid mob screaming for his blood outside, Macready and his company finished the play. They acted until the noises of fighting and bricks through windows got too loud. After that, they mimed the rest before taking a bow, dropping the curtain and sneaking away in disguise.
No word if they dressed as trees.
The riot didn't stop with the play, though. Long after Macready snuck away, New Yorkers were still trying to destroy the theater and going at it with the cops and each other, at that point just because. For the second time in this article, the state militia had to be called in to stop the madness. For the first time, though, they were actually given a run for their money.
When the dust of what history would know as the Astor Place Riot cleared, more than 20 people had found themselves taking a one-way trip to the morgue, and over 200 policemen and soldiers were injured.
All because two guys tried to out-Shakespeare one another.
For more situations that got out of hand, check out 7 Bullshit Rumors That Caused Real World Catastrophes and The 25 Most Nonsensical Protest Signs.