Theatre Etiquette

August 20, 2017


I usually don't talk about specific things like this, but after coming home from seeing one of Broadway's most popular musicals (Dear Evan Hansen), I feel that this is something that simply needs to be addressed.  Everyone is going to attend the theater at some point in their life, whether they're seeing a Broadway show, a high school musical, or a friend's play.  Live theatre is quite unlike simply watching a movie in theaters.  You need to be aware of both the audience around you and the actors on stage, because your actions in the theater could affect both.  Since theatre etiquette isn't a very commonly taught behavior, a lot of people who aren't familiar with attending shows don't know exactly how to behave.  Here's what you absolutely need to know before you go.



1. Know what the show is about ahead of time.

You'd be amazed at how many people I've noticed watch a show that they know absolutely nothing about.  Literally, there were people that walked out of Hamilton because they didn't realize that the show is hip-hop-styled.  There were people at Dear Evan Hansen who didn't even clap at the end.  I really wish I was kidding, considering these two shows are IMPOSSIBLE to get tickets to.  If you're going to a Broadway show, listen to the soundtrack, read the Wikipedia synopsis, get to know the show before you see it.  You are spending a pretty hefty amount of money on your ticket, after all.  Please don't be that guy who wastes $300 on his Hamilton ticket because he didn't know the basics of the show.


2. PG-13 VS. Kid-Friendly

I saw Dear Evan Hansen recently, and I was shocked to see a 7 year old sitting in the aisle across from me.  The show centers around a high schooler's suicide, and it features a lot of sex jokes and F-bombs throughout the dialogue.  Did that kid even know what was going on half the time?  Unlike movies, there is no rating that tells you how appropriate a show is.  Of course, if it's a high school or middle school performance, the show will have been adapted to make it kid-friendly.  As for Broadway, there are a ton of shows that have mature story lines, foul language, dirty jokes, and potentially graphic scenes (cue naked Daniel Radcliffe in Equus).  To prevent scarring your elementary-schooler for life, read the reviews first!!


3. Put down that god-forsaken bag of chips.

This is not a movie theater.  In live theatre, the actors and the audience form a bond that make the performance seem as real as possible.  Noise coming from cell phones, voices, and food wrappers will break this effect and ultimately ruin the audience's experience in the moment.  Don't ruin a tense or quiet scene in the show because you decided to have a snack.  Open your food BEFORE the show starts, or don't have any food at all.  It's only a 2 hour show, after all-- not eating anything for 2 hours won't kill you.


4. Dress appropriately.

Theatrical performances have been regarded as professional, high-class events since the Renaissance.  Theatre-goers typically dress up for performances not only because it is expected, but as a sign of respect for the cast and crew members.  These people have put in countless hours of work, sweat, and tears for their production, and it is only fair that the audience recognizes their work by making the best of themselves.


5. Put away all electronic devices.

This should be a no-brainer.  At any show you go to, there is always an announcement that prohibits the use of cell phones, cameras, and video cameras.  If you really want to record your child's solo in their school musical, ask permission to take videos and pictures at the dress rehearsal.  If you really want to snap a picture of your favorite actor in the newest Broadway show, don't.  Go to the stage door when the performance is over and wait to see if he comes out to sign autographs, then take the picture.  And finally, you can wait until Intermission or until the end of the show to check your phone.  Realize that these rules apply to everyone, including you.


6.  Don't get out of your seat in the middle of a scene.

My answer to this one is always to wait until Intermission to get up and do whatever you need to do, whether it's going to the bathroom, leaving due to an emergency, or leaving because you simply aren't enjoying the show.  Unfortunately, there are some shows that don't have an Intermission or break period where it's okay to leave your seat.  This is advice for the emergencies:  Wait until the scene is over and the lights go dark to quietly slip out of the theater.  Don't be that a**hole that gets up in the middle of a number and causes a distraction trying to get through the aisle to leave.  I'll say it again:  Emergencies only.


7.  Don't sing along.

You can't talk during a show, and you definitely can't sing.  You might be a die-hard fan and know all the words to the songs, but no one will be impressed when you're sitting there singing along with the actors.  This isn't a concert.  Unless the actors break the fourth wall and specifically tell the audience to say a certain word or react a certain way, you should stay silent during the show (other than applauding after songs and scenes).  The same goes for dancing.


8.  Wait for the ushers to hand you a playbill and direct you to your seat.

God bless the ushers.  In case you don't know, they're the workers that stand around the theater, handing out playbills and directing guests to their seats.  I've worked as an usher at a local theater, and it was a lot more stressful than I expected.  The reason?  Guests would walk right past me because they trusted that they could find their seats themselves.  This led to two problems:  1. Guests wouldn't get their playbills from me and make a fuss about why they weren't given any, and 2. Guests would sit in the wrong seats.  This caused a lot of confusion, fighting over seats, and general annoyance to everyone who it affected, including the ushers.  Let the ushers do their job-- they're there for a reason.

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