The Non-Existence of Student Audience Etiquette


Aly Markov

I had recently seen and reviewed The Stratford Festival’s production of Romeo and Juliet and my trip might have been pleasant if it wasn’t for the students talking during the show, asking each other questions like “why does Tybolt have two swords?” as if their friends were the directors and before the intermission saying not so quietly, “Please break...” and when the lights come up “I called it!”. Not to mention when they were laughing at inappropriate times in the show such as Romeo and Juliet’s suicide.

I’m a passive person and I hate confrontation, but after they were shushed once and they continued, I had a rare moment where I was actually tempted to get the usher to kick them out. But instead, not wanting to be “that chick who ratted on them”, I turned to whoever was talking and stared at them until their friend told them to shut up.

Though as annoying as it was, I also knew where they were coming from. They were probably forced to come on a school trip because they are studying the show in class. The problem is that as much as teachers can tell students to be respectful in the theatre and of the others who paid full price for tickets to see this production, they will do what they want because they have to be there. Shakespeare is also a lot harder to watch and get through than a play or musical in modern English, and the show didn’t use mics so the attention span is smaller because they have to put more effort, which they don’t want to use, to listen to the actors.

It’s sad that I am able to sympathize with these students, as I was in high school studying the same show myself, but as a theatre lover and theatre student, and who only had one teacher briefly told us about theatre etiquette (in elementary school), I have to say that enough is enough.

My proposal to all teachers, especially English teachers, is to make seeing a show optional for the students, not mandatory. I know that sounds crazy, and I know there are some technicalities with it, but I believe it to be the only way that the theatre can be respected without students disrupting a performance. That way, only students who are interested (and can afford it) in seeing something they are studying in action will watch and will be more respectful.

As a personal example, there was one time when I was in the ninth grade (or freshman) that the drama teachers in my school had proposed that any students who were interested could watch a production of Jesus Christ Superstar and go backstage. Because it’s a religious musical and we were in a Catholic school, they knew that not everyone would be interested but it was open for everyone who was. I was unable to go because of a test, but they had sold out their reserved tickets and the students who were lucky went and talked about how amazing it was for years. This was only successful because only interested students went and had a great time. I’m sure that if anyone else were forced into it, they would not have enjoyed or appreciated the trip, just as these students were in watching Romeo and Juliet.

Some teachers simply tell the students that the test will have a question about the show, which can promote watching it, but at the same time, the students who are unable to see the show (such as if they can’t afford it or have a test that day) can’t answer said question on the test. Wouldn’t it just be easier to get a substitute watch the students (maybe play a movie version) while the rest of the class see the show and represent the school with good manners?

This is a simple, and perfect solution, speaking as an ex-high school student and as a theatre lover who loves going to matinees. I don’t believe that anyone should be forced to see a show because if they don’t care, they show it, and it disturbs the rest of us. It sounds like a simple dream of the theatre only being filled with theatre lovers, but it’s also hard to see.

Teachers, if you see something impossible with my proposal with your school, at least have a talk with your students about theatre etiquette before going. It may go through one ear and out the other, but at least they will know for future productions if they see something they want to. Please also remind them that the actors on stage went through labours of hard work to perform for them, and can actually hear and see them when they speak and text, people tend to forget that when watching a show.

Because people are so driven by their screens, people have forgotten how scared the theatre is and think that it doesn’t matter what they say and do in the space, this goes for not just students but for everyone. I’m surprised theatres haven’t resorted to posting rules outside like they do on rides at an amusement park. Theatre’s a dying art, but it’s thriving and still loved. I hate for something that I love and enjoy to be ruined by someone who’s trying to make the rest of the people around them suffer like them.

I know that this isn’t the case for all students, as I haven’t had a problem with every matinee performance, but this is still something that needs to be done.

For now until the dream is a reality, I have this to say:

Students, if you’re forced to see a show, be respectful to those who paid full price for their tickets and enjoy it. You’re not the only ones in the theatre, and the actors are doing their job to keep you entertained and if you’re not, pay attention, do not talk or text or play games on your phone (it’s supposed to be off anyway. And no, not on vibrate or silent). Respect the theatre, it’s only three hours or less of your life that you could be in school, where would you rather be? Don’t forget, you could be tested on it later.