Theatre Etiquette: How to Be a Great Audience Member

Theatre Etiquette: How to Be a Great Audience MemberShawn is ready for the show to start!

I’m going to assume that most people know the “basics” of being a good audience member… things like turning off your cell phone, not unwrapping crinkly candies during the overture, and the like.  Ceris wrote a great piece at about theatre etiquette for parents — check it out.

But I’m going to delve a little deeper into being a good audience member, and hopefully share some things that you may not have thought of.

1.  This one may sound like a no-brainer, but… allow yourself time to get to the theatre and get situated.

There are actually a lot of things you can/should do before going into the auditorium and sitting down… you need to pick up your tickets at will-call if you don’t have them yet (you can’t get in without your tix!), use the restrooms before the giant line-ups begin (especially for the ladies’ room!), get a snack or beverage at the concession stand, peruse the headshots or production photos in the lobby, read through your program, and get yourself in the right mindset for the show you’re about to see.  Now, don’t write me off as all artsy-fartsy or airy-fairy about that last point.  If you’re rushing in at the last minute, you’re totally not in the “let’s enjoy a show” mindset.  You’re in the “OMG traffic was nuts I’m going to be late where is my cell phone I have to pee but there isn’t time I can’t get my arm out of my coat sleeve” mindset, and you’re going to be totally stressed out and out of breath.  You definitely won’t enjoy the show as much as you would have if you weren’t feeling rushed.

2.  Sit back in your seat, and sit up straight.

Your mom probably has bugged you before about not slouching and having good posture.  And here’s why*: audience seats are usually set up in a way that are slightly diagonal to the row in front of and behind them.  This is so you can see between the window of space between the heads of the people in front of you.  You may be totally engrossed in the performance and leaning forward to get a closer look, or you may be on a hot date and want to rest your head on your beau’s shoulder, but you’re wrecking the view for the people behind you.  Especially in the first case, if the audience is raked (angled) slightly down, you will totally block the view.  So sit up straight and sit back in your chair.  You can snuggle after the show.

*Your mom also probably wanted you to sit up straight so you wouldn’t grow up to be a hunchback… but go with me on the whole audience thing.

3.  No matter how sneaky you think you’re being, other audience members AND the actors onstage can see you.

During the run of The Three Musketeers at the Palace Theatre, I had the misfortune of seeing a couple getting, let’s say, frisky, in the audience.  The couple was seated way to the side with no other patrons near them, so they probably thought they had some privacy.  Trust me… us actors got quite the eyeful up onstage during the ball scene!  I also remember a particular disheartening event during the run of No Traveler Returns; both myself in the audience (as the director) and the actors onstage noticed a man who fell asleep in his seat during the first act of the show.  How depressing is that, to feel like your show is putting your audience to sleep?!

Do you have any tips about how to be a great audience member?
Share them in the comments!

And be sure to check out my other articles about theatre etiquette!

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10 thoughts on “Theatre Etiquette: How to Be a Great Audience Member

  1. Getting there early is so important – I usually allow 20-30 minutes, because pretty much everyone turns up 5 minutes before and thinks that’s really early, hence a super long queue. I like to have time to sink in the atmosphere (because usually theatres are freaking beautiful), usually in combination with journalling, if I’m attending solo.

    Also, I recommend dressing up, even a little bit 🙂

    Finally, turning off your cell phone is obvious, but also act respectfully if someone else faces the embarrassment of forgetting. One time a snooty Broadway audience’s gasps and disgruntled mutterings ended up being WAY LOUDER than the actual cellphone that buzzed mid-scene…

    Enjoy the show!

    1. Those are excellent tips, Xandra. I also enjoy dressing up for the theatre. 🙂

      And I agree about acting respectfully towards others… sometimes people get so caught up in shaming a person’s behavior that they fail to realize that their behavior might be shameful!

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Be engaged in the show, especially if it’s a comedy. It doesn’t take a melodrama for the actors to love an active audience. There’s nothing worse than going out to a Saturday matinee audience, saying your best punch line of the whole show, and being greeted with dead silence.

    There’s no need to be that guy guffawing for 2 minutes after, but don’t be afraid to let your appreciation show.

  3. What drives me crazy is when other audience members chat during the performance. I have tried to politely ask talkers to be quiet and I usually get a rude response and no respite from their banter. I pay for my ticket with hard-earned money to hear the performers, not the obnoxious commentators seated nearby. Ditto for musicals – please don’t sing along. I’m there to hear the pros sing.

  4. Ron Dodson

    My personal bugaboo is with audience members who bolt for the exit as soon as the last syllable is said. No appreciation shown. No respect demonstrated. Even if the show is not great (and I am not suggesting that a standing ovation is necessary unless it is deserved!), or if the bladder is about to burst, or the dinner reservation is waiting, it’s just plain rude to toddle down the row (disrupting others who are applauding) and up the aisle as if the experience of seeing a play was the same as watching a television show. And usually, it’s the senior set who do this….if any group should know better, they should!

  5. Hi! It’s my first time visiting your blog, but anyway I think this etiquette thing got blown up real big recently because of the cellphone charging incident on Broadway and Patti LuPone.

    It is great to see people trying to uphold proper theatre etiquette around, and I will definitely share your blog post on Twitter and my other social media pages. Anyway, my biggest issue is definitely latecoming and making noise in the house. I have no idea why someone who spent nearly 100 bucks (or about 50 pounds if you’re British), and then not make the day available for himself to enjoy the show fully. Why does he have to pack his whole day with things he could do some other day, and rush to the theatre only to realize that the overture has started (if you’re seeing a musical)? It is also very distracting to the audience members who are punctual… As for noise-making, I think I need not say more.

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