Pre-Show Audience Rituals

Liz Chirico

  •  OnStage Massachusetts Columnist

I don’t know about you but for me the planning experience before any trip is almost as fun as the trip itself.  For years I thought I was strange but now there’s studies proving that some of the benefits of vacations come from the planning so I feel justified in my behavior now. But that’s not really the point. The point is, I have a trip to NYC coming up, a show will be seen (Waitress- expect a review next week) and here are my theater rituals. What are yours?

1. Whenever possible know the music. There’s 2 different camps on this one- be surprised or have the lyrics memorized. I’m the latter. The music helps me connect with the show, the characters and I love being pulled into the story before show time. In a way knowing the music beforehand allows me to experience more of the show. Because the songs are familiar I can focus more on the dancing, the set, the costumes and try to imprint as much of it to memory as possible. Then when I listen to the cast album years later, I can call up this magical experience again and again.

2. Arrive 30 minutes early- at least. In many cases the theater housing the show is as much as work of art as what’s happening on stage. Go early. Take a walk around the building if you (also helps you locate the stage door if you’re into that), savor that moment as you pass through the door and enter into the lobby. Look in all directions. Think of who has walked the steps you just walked, as a performer, an audience member. Then, find your seat.

3. Hit the restrooms before show time. Especially for us ladies this is a big one. There’s nothing worse than having to miss part of the show, or try to read your Playbill to find out what the number is right before intermission to try to sneak out and beat the crowds. Just go now.

4. Read your Playbill. I’ve usually been reading up on the show I’m seeing, the actors, etc. prior to going but it’s always fun to find connections with performers through their bios. I love knowing I saw that ensemble person in other shows, the actor in their breakout role came to my city with a touring show 2 years ago, etc. It makes everything more real to me somehow. Plus Playbill usually has trivia and articles about other shows and actors.

5. Adjust your seat.Then adjust again. Wouldn’t it be great if theater seats were like hair salon seats and you could pull a handle to pop yourself up a couple inches? (As someone who is 5’2 on a good day, I’ve thought about this often. (Inevitably about 5 minutes before the overture starts, Shaquille O’Neil’s long-lost cousin sits in front of me and I’ve lost my view. So in the winter, fold up your jacket and sit on it. In the summer I’ve actually sat on my knees. Move around a bit to find that sweet spot of viewing between the heads of the people in front of you. Without being a jerk to those behind and next to you, do what you need to ensure you can see. 

6. Act like a kid. Within reason, don’t kick the seat of the person in front of you or start whining. You know the pure utter joy kids have when they are experiencing something new, seeing something spectacular, having the time of their life doing something we may take for granted? Act like that. Seeing live theater isn’t something commonplace no matter how many shows you see. It’s always an adventure, an exciting, breathtaking, magical adventure. As the emcee says, “leave your troubles outside” and for those few precious hours let yourself be lost to and in the story.