Going to the Theatre Has Been Ruined for Me

Kasie Tiler Patlove

This may be an extreme statement, but don’t worry-it’s not the actors or the directors, designers, playwrights or producers that have failed me. Imagine this scene: you’ve taken off an evening of work to go see a Broadway show. You’ve been waiting for weeks to have the time and the money to burn on a show you’ve been dying to see. You arrive at the theater a few minutes early, take time to use the restroom, chat with your date for the evening, check out the theater, or read a snippet of the playbill. At 8:00, the omnipresent voice announces to turn off all cell phones and refrain from unwrapping food or other disturbing noises. You oblige, quickly turn off your phone, sit back and eagerly anticipate the excitement that the next two hours will bring. 

The miniscule hairs on the inside of your ears start to prickle, your neck cringes and your attention is yanked from the action in front of you. Suddenly you become overcome with an acute and completely non medical blindness and deafness. You can’t focus because a woman behind you is nosily opening a bag of potato chips and proceeding to chomp on them as if she were at Yankee Stadium. You can’t watch the show because the only thing you’re thinking about is this woman eating her potato chips. Show. Ruined. 

You’re sitting in row G. You paid a reasonable $34 dollars after standing in line for two hours to see the hot new musical of the season. It’s a blast, the book is hilarious, the songs are catchy, and you are genuinely enjoying your evening. The show decelerates into a quiet, touching and heartfelt musical number, when that prickle in your ears and cringe in your neck rears its ugly head. A bright light catches your focus and holds it like a magnet. A man’s cell phone has gone off and he proceeds to answer the call while hunched down in his seat, as if no one will notice him. Show. Ruined. 

These are only two examples of the multitude of show-ruining moments I’ve had over the past two years of regular, NYC theatergoing. I’ve had many shows ruined by the commentary of elderly couples sitting near me, in which one partner was unable to hear or understand the actors. She/he frequently asked questions and the other partner would elaborate at normal speaking volume. Little do these people know; their conversation makes hearing the performance more difficult for everyone! Every theater on Broadway (and most large regional venues) is equipped with assistive listening devices for the hearing impaired that amplify the sound on stage. Some Broadway shows even offer a service called i-caption, a hand held captioning device that works from any seat in the theater! Unfortunately, I don’t believe many theatergoers are aware of the options available to give them-and everyone- a better viewing experience.  

“Sit back, relax and enjoy the show”. How many times have we heard these 7 words? And yet people still don’t understand that theater is to be enjoyed SITTING DOWN. The great lords who created modern theater even scheduled a fifteen minute period where the show stops and you can stand up! You can even use a modern invention called the toilet! Look, I understand.

Sometimes nature calls and you can’t do anything about it. But if you’re the kind of person who KNOWS you’ll need to go more than once in a span of 75 minutes, please do everyone a favor, take an aisle seat. Having to push and shove your way through an entire row of people, blocking their view (and the two rows behind) is not fun for anyone.

I think the most important part of going to see a show, is actually seeing the show. So please, for the love of Sondheim, read your ticket. Find out what time the show starts. And plan accordingly. If you miss the first 15 minutes of a show (or hour, if you show up at 8 after a 7pm show start), you have no right to complain to the ushers about waiting to be seated or the box offices refusal to give you a refund. 

I commend and appreciate parents and families who value a child’s artistic education. I think it’s an amazing thing that so many people want to expose their children to live theater. But a two-and-a-half- hour, full scale production may not be the best idea for most children under 10. Frequent bathroom breaks, snacks and a child’s need to get up and move around are not conducive to a pleasant experience at Broadway show for child, parent, or seat neighbors.

There are plenty of venues that have shows specifically for children (TYA, the Vital Theater in NYC, Theaterworks tours). They specialize in performances under 60 minutes with relevant stories and themes that children will actually understand and appreciate. 

Is there a reasonable way we can ban food, cell phones and generally obnoxious people from Broadway houses? Probably not. 

My opinions may seem snobbish- the musings of an entitled, experienced theater attendee. But the importance of this issue is bigger than the viewing experience of one person. Disruptions to the show are disrespectful to the actors, crew, musicians, conductors, stage managers, directors, dressers, lighting and sound technicians and hundreds of other people who work tirelessly to put on a show 8 times a week. It is essentially telling them that their jobs, their dreams are not as important as your one text message, checking the score of the football game, or your need for a snack. If you are unable to sit quietly for two hours without distraction, live theater is not for you.

Please, go to the movies.