Over the summer, the incomparable Patti LuPone rather famously yanked the phone from a patron who was texting during a performance. This prompted her to reveal her 5 Rules For Theatre Etiquette. I'm here to expand on those ideas and to add a little insight into proper theatre etiquette from my perspective.
This involves a lot of things, one of them being one of my favourite phrases in theatre: spacial awareness. Be conscious of how your moving around during a performance will disturb not only the actors on stage but the people around you. The seats you kick, the view you block, the arm rests you steal, it's all very distracting.
The other part of that is silence. Like soufflé making or bomb defusal, it's very distracting to talk while someone is working. Laugh, cry, cheer (at appropriate times, use your discretion) but keep comments and questions to a minimum. I promise you'll understand what's going on if you just watch instead of asking your neighbour.
One other thing that I think comes with respect is punctuality. Attending a play or musical is very different from going to a concert or going to the movies where you have an hour before you get to the good stuff. When the show is scheduled to start, the lights go down and the doors are locked. Use the rule that all actors are (or should be) taught: if you're early, you're on time; if you're on time, you're late; if you're late, you're screwed.
2. Turn it off
This is a pretty straightforward concept; you've paid to see a performance so you're encouraged to watch that performance instead of texting or talking on the phone. At the very least turn the sound off and keep your phone in a place where the light won't catch your attention. There is nothing like looking out into the audience for encouragement and finding a sea of faces staring at their crotch. I assure you, we can see you.
Everyone who goes to see a show with me knows I love my Twizzlers and no one can take that away from me but there is a difference between unwrapping a soft candy before the lights go down and hearing the crunch of chips or the crackle of packaging in the middle of Eponine's death scene. I know people who refuse to even drink bottled water in the theatre and I know others who love to eat, drink, and be merry all over the place. I think the key is be tidy. Treat the theatre with the same respect you offer the people in that theatre. If you’re going to indugle: clean up after yourself, don't spill, and keep it quiet.
The other part of being fancy and eating Twizzlers with your pinkie up is to wear the clothes to match. Dress nicely when you go to the theatre. It doesn’t have to be a ball gown but for the love of god, do not wear sweatpants or jeans. Theatre is our holy ground. Please wear appropriate clothing.
4. Use Judgment
OnStage recently released an article on the subject of standing ovations so I won't go into it too much but my opinion is the same as a lot of actors: applaud a performance, acknowledge the work, but only stand if you are moved to your feet. Never stand just because the person beside you is standing.
I may talk about this more in depth later because suspension of disbelief is so important in the theatre world but the short answer I can give you is this: be prepared to believe. Walk into the theatre with the understanding that while there may be an actor in that beautifully crafted costume, you are not watching an actor in a costume. You are watching a character and a story come to life before your eyes. Enjoy and believe what you are seeing. If you are pulled out of the story at any time, it should be because the actor isn't upholding their end of the bargain, not because your phone is ringing, or your neighbour is fondling a bag of chips, or because you refuse to believe that Peter Pan is actually flying around the stage.