Audience Etiquette: The Ten Commandments of Good Theatre Behavior

The audience is by far the most important part of live theatre. Without people in the seats, there would be no talent on the stage. While there are many audience members that know the “rules” of attending a live production, newcomers may not be aware of the do’s and do not’s.

So whether you’re an avid theatre-goer or just now getting your feet wet in the magnificence of live theatre, heed the following commandments.

1. Thou shall respect and obey the rules of the theatre your attending.

Every theatre is different but a lot of the general rules are the same. Some theatres have unique rules, like Stages St. Louis. Stages is so fortunate to perform every summer at the beautiful Robert G. Reim Theatre in Kirkwood, the facility does not allow food and drinks in the auditorium. This is the case with many theatres around town and in most cases is NOT the theatre company’s decision. So respect the rule of the house and finish your concession items in the lobby.

When you arrive to enjoy a production, make sure to take a look at the program for any special rules that might apply. And don’t take your frustration out on the theatre staff. All they want to do is provide you with a night of entertainment.

2. Thou shalt not use flash photography or video recording.

This is an especially important rule to remember when attending a live production. In most cases, the theatre company is leasing the rights to the show you are about to see and part of that lease contract is that no one will take photographs or video of the performance.

I know it’s hard to not pull your cell phone out and snap a quick pic of your child performing, or recording a snippet from your favorite musical. Just know that if you do, don’t be surprised if you’re asked to leave.

Another reason audience members are asked to not use flash photography is because it can be very distracting to the actors on stage. They already have the stress of performing in front of an audience, trying to remember their lines, lyrics, blocking, choreography, etc. Add that to the already bright lights shining in their face, they don’t need flashbulbs going off all around them.

3. Thou shall know what to expect from the production.

Have you ever been to a performance and sat near another audience member that asks his or her partner “How long until intermission?” or “When will this show end?” Maybe you heard them say something like “I don’t know what’s going on.” 

Part of the fun of theatre is experiencing new shows you have never seen before but you don’t want to be one of “those people.” Get your info beforehand. If you can’t find the answer, ask an usher or the box office when you get to the venue. You won’t be sorry if you’re well informed.

4. Thou shalt not sing along with the performance.

Most of us love running to the store to get the hottest new musical soundtrack. We listen to the songs on our way to work or while we’re cleaning. We learn the songs and sing aloud to them. We all share that burst of joy when we find out it’s making it’s way to a theatre close by. But remember, it’s a live THEATRICAL production, not a concert.

You’re not the only one sitting in the audience with the urge to burst into song and sing from the top of your lungs. Hold it in and enjoy the magic of the performance. Sing in the car on the way home!

5. Thou shall respect the actors after the curtain closes.

While we don’t normally experience the joy of congregating at the stage door like you can in New York, sometimes the actors will come out into the crowd to thank you for attending. Remember that they just performed under very hot, bright lights and they are tired. Don’t monopolize their attention. Congratulate them, ask for their autograph, or snap a selfie with them and then move on so they can do the same.

If you were unhappy with the show you saw, wait until you leave to criticize the performance in private. Whether the performance was good or bad, the cast and crew worked hard and deserve respect for their performance.

6. Thou shalt not bring outside food into the theatre.

This is not something that you should be told. It’s common sense and it’s rude. Much like attending a movie theater or going to a concert, trying to sneak your goodie bag of treats into the show is very frowned upon. Part of what helps fund the production you are about to see is the concessions. Make sure to bring enough money so you can get the snacks and drinks needed to sustain you through the show.

7. Thou shall applaud at the appropriate times.

With every production, there are appropriate times to clap and inappropriate times. An applause should be reserved for the end of a song or the conclusion of a scene. While it can be thrilling to hear the power note or powerful monologue, save the applause for when it’s all done.

Finally, an applause at the end of a show is a sign of respect for the performance you just witnessed. Whether you enjoyed the show or hated it, show some respect for the cast and crew for their effort by giving them an applause.

Please know that this is not referring to standing ovations. That is a different topic altogether.

8. Thou shalt not EVER use your phone during a performance.

Not to be blunt, but don’t be a jerk. When you enter the theatre, silence or turn off your devices. Don’t put it on vibrate. It can be heard when it starts rattling everything in your purse. We all know that sometimes life doesn’t let you turn off the phone. Parents with babysitters, employees on call, we get it. Simply silence your phone and discreetly check it in between scenes or at intermission.

Under no circumstances is it appropriate to answer your silenced device while sitting in the theatre. If it’s a call that must be answered, excuse yourself as quietly as possible and go to the lobby or outside to take your call.

Oh and one last thing, don’t text during the show. The lights on our expensive smartphones are bright and can be quite distracting in the dark theatre. Again, it can wait so enjoy the show.

9. Thou shall dress appropriately for the event.

Before you get all huffy, no one is saying that you need to run out and spend a lot of money on a flashy new outfit, but don’t throw on your comfy sweatpants and worn out t-shirt. Think about how much it cost you to purchase the tickets and try to match the outfit to the event. Enough said?

10. Thou shalt not leave before the curtain call.

You have spent money to attend the show, time to get there, and created some beautiful memories of seeing the show. Stay until it’s actually over. Everyone knows the traffic is going to suck but the actors on stage deserve your attention to the end.

Don’t jump out of your seat and run up the aisle while you’re applauding the performance.  Keep your butt in your seat and wait until the curtain closes or the actors leave the stage unless you’re giving a standing ovation. But stay put until the end.

Stay tuned for more tips on being a stand-up audience member.

For the next couple of weeks, we will be discussing numerous ways to be the best audience we can be. From standing ovations to the best practices when bringing children to live theatre, we will have lots to talk about. Most importantly, we want this to be a conversation starter. What bothers you about audience behavior? What dos and don’ts do you abide by? Please use the comment section below or visit our Facebook page and let’s talk.

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