Theatre goers - question for ya, “Why do you care what people wear?”
Let’s set the scene. I was scouring the deep webs of the Theatre Twitterverse at Grand Central Station before my train took off and I lost all cell reception until 33rd St. Right when the 6 train left the station, I stumbled across an article bemoaning the lost sense of propriety, the lack of respect for today’s performers and Broadway’s legacy - all because some audience members wore flip-flops to a show.
Let’s take this back, wayyy back. As theatre developed in Ancient Greece, the artform transformed from exclusivity within the elite to a class equalizer, a place where the masses could be entertained, be challenged by new philosophies and worship the Gods. It was an artform by the people for the people. Theatres were rambunctious centers of entertainment in Shakespeare’s time, where audience members ate and talked (GASP) during performances. Parliament closed all theatres in England in the early 1600’s because members saw the craft as sinful, but theaters kept living outside of city walls in districts filled with brothels and pubs.
That sounds a little different from today’s atmosphere, doesn’t it.
So, take a moment to think about what a contemporary theatre experience provides you. The theater is a place to socialize with your friends and family. It shows you another life perspective and develops empathy. It connects you to yourself through larger than life stories and spectacle. It gives you an opportunity to support the community. It’s a damn good time.
Every other person in the theater’s house, regardless of seat or ticket price, has an equal right to the same above experiences as you do.
The Broadway and local theatre communities alike are developing extensive outreach programs to bring all different types of people to the theatre. Some of my favorites are listed below:
- The Broadway League’s Viva Broadway audience development program
- New York Theatre Workshops’s Learning Workshop
- The Signature Theatre’s Signature Ticket Initiative: A Generation of Access
- Hamilton’s Hamilton Education Program, #EduHam
As theatre becomes more accessible (I’m not saying we’re there yet or that we are even close to being there yet), it’s time to evaluate the atmosphere inside the house. Everyone deserves to feel comfortable in their own skin while consuming art. After all, art connects you to yourself through larger than life stories and spectacle. Judging those around you because of what they’re wearing goes against the empathy piece of theatre, doesn’t it?
So why do you care what people wear?
Current society is classist enough. Ticket prices are already expensive enough. The theater’s atmosphere is already stuffy enough.
According to The Broadway League, 77% of all Broadway tickets were purchased by Caucasian theatregoers in the 2015-2016 season. The average annual household income of Broadway show attendees was $201,500 in the 2013-2014 season. That’s a problem, and the insular atmosphere created by an “everyone should dress nice” elite mentality is making consumption for the masses another obstacle for those who haven’t been afforded the opportunity or ability to dress up for one reason or another.
I can and love dressing up to enjoy theatre, and I don’t discourage you from dressing up either. Putting on my nice slacks and shined shoes adds to my personal experience of seeing a show. However, my experience is my own experience. I purchased my ticket for my one on one relationship with the show I’m seeing. Never has my experience been jeopardized or discredited because of the attire of those around me.
Texting and talking during a performance? Now that’s just disruptive and disrespectful.
Attire isn’t about respect for the performers - the audience displays their respect through with purchasing tickets, applauding during and after the show, (hopefully) turning of their cell phones, providing their thanks at the stage door, and more. This is about respect for theatre goers alike and unlike yourself. Flip-flops will in no way affect the performers’ abilities or the message of the show, so why do you care what people wear to the theater? Especially when the lights go out.
Andrew Rubenbauer is an actor, singer, writer and marketer living in New York. Catch him on Instagram and share your opinions with him on Twitter at @arubenbauer.