A few days ago, right before a performance of Hand to God, an audience member climbed onto the stage and plugged his cell phone into a fake electrical socket. A crew member had to unplug the phone and make an announcement on why that shouldn’t happen.
In the much loved yet, short lived Sci-Fi show Firefly, Shepard Book talks about a “special hell…reserved for those who talk at the theatre.” While this is meant to be humorous, it certainly echoes the feelings of many who have their evenings interrupted by extraneous noise or ill-mannered individuals.
During World War Two and the earlier days of Hollywood, when people wanted to escape they would spend a great deal of their Saturdays at the movie theatre. The shows started with a playing of the Star Spangled Banner, the seats were plush and there were often lots of newsreels and cartoons played before the film. It was an event, something to look forward to all week. This echoes times of old during the height of the renaissance. Opera was extremely popular. The opera was the place to see and be seen. There were often ballets or other acts in between the acts. To put it simply, behavior in the theatre audience was a common knowledge. Now that populace on mass does not take in the theatre, the knowledge of proper audience behavior has faded into memory.
It is easy for the theatre community to become frustrated, however, if no one taught you how to act as an audience member, how would you know? So here are a few things to know about being a good audience member.
It is Customary to Dress Up for the Theatre.
Although the attire does change from day to evening performances, as well as regionally; many people still chose to dress up for theatre performances. Jeans are rarely appropriate. This is also true for orchestral concerts and ballets. Opera goes usually opt for black tie apparel, sporting tuxes and full length formal gowns. Take the opportunity to pull the tags off of that beautiful cocktail dress or grab a new dress shirt, and honor this tradition.
Your Cell Phone Needs to be Off.
Not on silent mode, off. Aside from the obvious distracting qualities of texting or a blaring ringtone, there is a much, much bigger problem that cell phones cause. Crew members working backstage at a show communicate via wireless headset. Cell phone signals interfere with the headsets, making it very difficult to do their job. This leads to missed cues and a possibly botched performance. Cell phones aren’t the only problem. Some people have even taken to bringing laptops to shows or other electronics to shows. It is best to just shut off your phone and get lost in the performance.
Be Respectful of Your Space.
It is common curtesy to pick your space before you leave. Don’t leave empty cups, soda cans, programs, or candy wrappers. Let the house managers go home to their families as early as possible. Another problem that occurs is disrespectful lounging in the seats. The chair in front of you is not a foot rest. The pressure from your legs can pull the chairs from the floors. Which then have to be repaired at the theatre’s expense, which will drive ticket prices up.
Quiet Off Stage.
Much enjoyment of the theatre comes from listening to it. Please keep your fellow audience members in consideration. Keep the conversation to a minimum and speak quietly. Try to wait until intermission to get up to use the restroom or to speak to your neighbor.
The theatrical world is littered with stories of audience members walking on the stage, walking backstage, found wandering through tunnels or shops. This is not only inconsiderate, but also potentially unsafe. Actos and crew are used to the flow of the backstage area. During a high school show in my hometown, an audience member walked onto the stage. He then swung open a wing door, striking teenaged actress with great force and therefore injuring her. There are large moving set pieces, rotating sets, dark spaces, and extremely heavy weights. There are always ushers to tell you where to go. Ask them politely for directions.
Keep these in mind for the next time you go to the theatre for the most enjoyable experience possible.