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How To Behave In A Theatre Without Really Trying

​On my last few visits to the theatre, I have noticed a big change in how people behave when they attend a production. For whatever reason, going to see a show does not seem to have the same formality it used to. At the last performance I saw, audience members sang along during the show and talked through the majority of the production. I was still able to enjoy the performance, but I found the actions of my fellow audience members to be irritating and disrespectful. I wanted to write this post as a reminder that if we lead with respect and kindness for the performers onstage and the audience members around us, everyone can enjoy the show.

Theatre etiquette begins before you arrive at the theatre. Do your best to arrive on time for the performance. Most houses will open for seating at least a half an hour before the show, and I find arriving as the doors open leaves enough time to find seats, use the washroom, and check out the merchandise for sale. It is common for late arrivals to be seated at an appropriate time during the show. However, ushers with flashlights leading a group of people to their seats in the dark is something that can be incredibly distracting to other audience members. I understand that life happens sometimes and can cause lateness, but always try to give yourself extra time just in case!

Once seated inside the theatre, there are a few important things to remember as the show progresses. First and foremost, TURN OFF YOUR PHONE! The sound of someone’s phone going off during a show is probably the worst way to be pulled out of the magic of live theatre. Also, no matter how low you have the brightness, the light coming from your device is noticeable to both those around you and the actors onstage. Cell phones are amazing, but if you’ve paid to attend a show, you can turn it off for a few hours to ensure everyone’s enjoyment!

It is also important to remain in your assigned seat, both literally and figuratively. It can be tempting to move up to another seat that is unattended and closer. Personally, I wouldn’t advise sitting in a seat you did not pay for; but if you are going to move up, do so at intermission in case anyone arrives late. It is also important to be aware of the personal space of others around you.

Leaning into other people’s seats to see better or placing your feet on the back of someone’s chair can be immensely distracting to those around you. As a tall woman who likes to wear heels, I understand that sometimes auditorium seating can have limited legroom. In situations where it’s cramped, I try to tuck my legs underneath my own seat or settle into a position where I am not at risk of kicking the back of another person’s chair. Musicals and plays can be long, and sitting still can be difficult. Naturally, you will need to shift at some point during the show, but be aware that there are others behind you. Having an awareness of the people seated around you can be helpful as you navigate these shifts, which are just a part of being human. For me, the major DON’T in this category involves large and constant movement; the main example being dancing along in your seat. Musicals are wonderful and usually will make you want to dance, but this kind of movement is hard to ignore, difficult to accommodate, and disrupts the show for everyone else. If you’re enjoying the music in the show, download the music when you get home and have your own dance party!

Singing along during the show is just as distracting as dancing in your seat. I am astounded at how common of an issue this has become; my last three visits to a Mirvish show, I have been seated beside people who have sang along to every song in the show. This is my biggest pet peeve when it comes to disrespectful behaviour in the theatre. It is incredibly rude to both the audience members around you and the performers onstage. Audience members have paid good money to see these songs performed by the professionals onstage, and the people onstage have pour hours of work into performing these pieces to the best of their ability. If you would like to sing along to epic showtunes, please remain at home with the cast album. Unless it is a show like The Rocky Horror Show where audience participation is encouraged, or if you are attending a scheduled sing along performance, DON’T sing during the production.

Another issue I have noticed recently at various productions is not only a breach of theatre etiquette, but stealing. Recording the show in any way; which includes video, audio, and photographs, is stealing. While recording a performance, you are not just getting the songs and scenes; you are recording the set, costume, lighting and sound design, choreography, orchestrations, and all the various elements that go into a piece of theatre. All of these elements are someone’s intellectual property. There is a lot of discourse in the theatre world regarding ‘bootlegging’, but I am simply going to say that recording a production is poor theatre etiquette.

I feel like the majority of theatregoers think that they are invisible to the people performing onstage. The world of t.v. and computer screens allows us to multitask, move around, and have a running commentary without a second thought to those providing the entertainment. Therefore, I think that it is worth mentioning in this post that the performers onstage can see you too. Depending on house size and lighting, the first five to six rows from the stage are quite visible. Disruptions such as large movement, cell phones, and late arrivals are noticeable and can be distracting to those performing. Once again, simply being mindful of those on and offstage can ensure a good performance for everyone.

This mindfulness doesn’t just apply to during the show. At intermission, or while exiting the theatre, part of the fun is discussing your experience with others. It is very important to watch what you say and when you say it. Sometimes people involved in the production, as well as their friends and family members, can be in the audience, as well as the general area of the theatre the production takes place. Be sure to keep your comments on the show positive, or at least try to filter your thoughts in a kind and intelligent manner. This also applies to sharing your opinions on social media. No two people are going to share the exact same thoughts on a show or every element within it; but there are ways to express and discuss various opinions without it being hurtful to other theatregoers or disrespectful to those who put the piece together. I highly encourage theatregoers not only to think before they speak, but before they type.

The final piece of theatre etiquette is something that I feel has gone out of style. More and more often, I find audience members to be dressed very casually. While I am all about comfort over style, I have always thought that it was important, and even a sign of respect, to dress up when spending an afternoon or evening out at the theatre. It doesn’t always need to be a black tie affair; but can be as simple as throwing on a sundress. Dressing for the theatre can also be fun in styling your outfit to the show, or in some cases, putting together a cosplay in tribute!

I am not too fashion-savvy, which is why I am going to include a link to one of my favourite blog posts by one of my favourite bloggers. Catherine Charlebois of Charlebois Chic wrote a wonderful post about why dressing for the theatre is important, and provides some fun tips on for to add your own flare to your next outing! Click here to read, and be sure to follow along with her on Instagram @charleboisnyc for all the updates! The quickest way to master theatre etiquette is to be mindful of the people around you, onstage and off. While I have discussed the basics here, each theatre will have their own set of rules, and I know that everyone has their own pet peeves. However, leading with respect and kindness can ensure a wonderful experience for people on both sides of the curtain.

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