How to Talk About a Show You Haven’t Seen

Caleigh Derreberry

Because theatre happens at one specific place at one specific time, it can be hard to discuss with another person. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a performance’s flaws are caused by the script or by an actor having an off night. Throw into the mix the fact that you don’t have to see a show to have an opinion on it, and it becomes increasingly hard to determine how to talk about theatre. When you find yourself in the situation of taking a stance on a show you haven’t seen, there’s a few things you need to keep in mind. 

Know What You’re Talking About

Don’t talk about a show you only know the name of. It’s not fair to the artists who created the show to form an opinion without being educated on the subject matter, especially given how easy it is to learn about shows now. Look up clips from performances on youtube, listen to the OBC on spotify, obtain a copy of the script, read the wikipedia article about the show—whatever you do, just make sure you’re familiar with the show, and aren’t forming your opinion based on preconceived notions about the artists or the subject matter.

Don’t Pretend

If you get into an arguments about the merits of a show you haven’t seen, make sure your adversary knows you haven’t seen it live. This will prevent them from immediately invalidating your opinion if the fact comes up later in the conversation. Let them know you know what you’re talking about, but make sure they know the knowledge didn’t come from attending a performance.

Don’t Talk About Participation Aspects

I like to think about there being two different categories aspects of a show can fall into—paper aspects and participating aspects. Paper aspects are things you can learn from a piece of paper—plot, composer, lyrics, etc. They’re things that can be conveyed by being written down. Participation aspects are things you can only learn from being in the audience, such as the power of a closing number or how enjoyable a scene plays. You shouldn't talk about participation aspects of shows you haven’t seen. If you’re discussing a show with another person who has seen the show, you can talk about why a song’s lyrics aren’t good but you can’t tell someone they’re wrong for thinking it’s powerful. Not only does this invalidate their experience, it isn’t fair to the artists who created the show.

Be Open to Change

The beliefs formed about a show without attending a performance are often the hardest to change. This shouldn’t stop you from taking a stance on shows you haven’t seen. The unfortunate truth is that not all shows will play in a theatre near you, so preventing yourself from forming opinions on shows you haven’t seen can limit your musical education. Allow yourself impressions of a show, as long as you’re open minded to changing them. Maybe a show is more powerful in person then you thought it was. Maybe an actor made you hate a particular characters. Maybe a friend who’s seen the show was finally able to explain the plot to you in a way you could understand. The important thing is to remain open minded and to give every show the respect it deserves. 

To Prevent Cellphone Charging and Bathroom Breaks, Make Them Viral

Chris Peterson

In the next 24 hours, you're going to hear an outrageous story about how a woman walked onto a stage of a musical, looking for the bathroom....in the middle of the show. 

The woman managed to walk onto the stage during Signature Theatre’s performance of "The Fix" on Saturday night. The woman exited through an onstage door, making her way to the backstage area, according to Playbill.com.

Actress Christine Sherrill was waiting to make her entrance when the door suddenly opened the wrong way. The woman asked Sherrill, "Where is the bathroom? I have to pee," Playbill reported.

Now while it has been reported that the woman was indeed intoxicated, we can file this one under another incident of bad audience behavior during live theatre. 

Part of me would like to give some of these people the benefit of the doubt. For instance in this case, the Signature Theatre is an arena stage. So the floor you walk on to enter the theater, is the stage (see below). So theoretically, in the dark, drunk, I can realistically see someone mistaking backstage for an exit to the lobby.

Arlington's Signature Theatre

Arlington's Signature Theatre

And while incidents like these annoy and stupefy us, the only way we can prevent them in the future is to keep making these incidents go viral. 

With the amount of attention that the Hand to God and Patti LuPone incidents received, one can only hope that the viral discussion at least raised awareness that behavior like that, isn't tolerated in live theatre. 

So just like public safety, if you see something, say something. If you see an unruly audience member pulling a stunt like this, tell everyone you know about it. Take a pic, record a video, do whatever you can to spread the word. 

The hope is that when people see how these folks are ridiculed for their actions, maybe they'll leave their phones in the car and visit the restrooms before the show begins. 

Thank You Patti LuPone, But You Accomplished Nothing

Chris Peterson

Audience etiquette has been a hot topic on Broadway this week with the Hand to God phone charger incident, which, if you ask me, was either a moment of drunken buffoonery or the greatest inside job to boost publicity for a non-Tony winning show I've ever seen. 

But this morning, news broke that during a performance of Shows for Days yesterday Patti LuPone saw an audience member was texting. In response, Lupone grabbed the cell phone and took it backstage with her. 

This isn't the first time that LuPone has gone off an a audience member for cell phone usage. Interestingly enough, while we get much joy out of hearing this, the only reason we're hearing it is because someone else in the audience was audio recording the show on their cell phone. 

And it's not just casual audience members who are being scolded either. It was widley reported that the reason why Madonna wasn't allowed backstage after Hamilton was because of her endless texting during the show. 

While LuPone's act of technology defiance will serve as another reason why we, theatre folks, love her as much as we do, it accomplished very little in curbing a growing negative aspect of seeing live theatre. And her statement afterwards will only be looked at as whining from a spoiled performer(which it actually kind of did) unless theater managers start taking this issue more seriously. 

I will never understand the leniency that theaters will show disruptive audience members. I've seen ushers cursed at without the guilty party being thrown out of the venue. I've seen cellphones, talkers, etc, without so much as a dirty glance from the house staff. I've spoken to some ushers about this in the past and the common response is, "Well there's not much we can do."

But see, there is. 

In case you didn't know, in New York City, it's actually been illegal to use a cell phone during a live theatrical performance since 2003. 

The law states, in part, "No person shall use a mobile telephone in a place of public performance while a theatrical, musical, dance, motion picture, lecture or other similar performance is taking place." It was introduced by City Councilman Phil Reed, who at the time represented the Eighth District of Manhattan, and was backed by 20 other Council members. Though Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the bill at the time, calling it unenforceable, his veto was overridden by a Council vote of 38 to 5 on Feb. 13, 2003. The law went into effect 60 days later.

Now, did any of you reading this, know it was illegal to use a cell phone in these situations? Probably not. And the reason is, this law is never mentioned or enforced when going to see a Broadway show nowadays. Instead, you'll usually hear a polite request to turn off your phone. However when flying on the plane, we know full well not to tamper with the smoke alarm in the bathroom because it's against FAA regulations with punishments including steep fines and possibly jail time. Why? Because it's mentioned explicitly before a flight. 

If theater management teams don't make this point clear in the front of house announcement or enforce the law after the show begins, then it's their own fault if this issue keeps happening. 

The fault also lies with the Broadway producing team that these type of rude people are in the audience to begin with. With the prices of tickets the way they are, you typically aren't going to find true "theatre fans" or devotees in the front rows. The same could be said for most sporting events. This is why you typically see many in the front row, resting their drinks or their Playbills on the stage or even sitting on it (happens almost every time I see a show), something that real theatre fans would NEVER do. 

So what can be done to prevent this from happening in the future? Well you can't block cell phone signals in a public space, that's also against the law. So the only solution is to either make it explicitly clear in the front of house announcement or enforce the law during the show and throw out every cell phone user. But seeing how these shows rely on the revenue from the clientele who are usually guilty of these offenses, don't expect the latter. 

The best solution right now? Hire Patti LuPone to patrol your audience. 

5 Things to Know About Being a Good Audience Member

Brittany Strelluf

A few days ago, right before a performance of Hand to God, an audience member climbed onto the stage and plugged his cell phone into a fake electrical socket. A crew member had to unplug the phone and make an announcement on why that shouldn’t happen. 

In the much loved yet, short lived Sci-Fi show Firefly, Shepard Book talks about a “special hell…reserved for those who talk at the theatre.”  While this is meant to be humorous, it certainly echoes the feelings of many who have their evenings interrupted by extraneous noise or ill-mannered individuals.  

During World War Two and the earlier days of Hollywood, when people wanted to escape they would spend a great deal of their Saturdays at the movie theatre. The shows started with a playing of the Star Spangled Banner, the seats were plush and there were often lots of newsreels and cartoons played before the film. It was an event, something to look forward to all week. This echoes times of old during the height of the renaissance. Opera was extremely popular. The opera was the place to see and be seen. There were often ballets or other acts in between the acts.  To put it simply, behavior in the theatre audience was a common knowledge. Now that populace on mass does not take in the theatre, the knowledge of proper audience behavior has faded into memory. 

It is easy for the theatre community to become frustrated, however, if no one taught you how to act as an audience member, how would you know? So here are a few things to know about being a good audience member.

It is Customary to Dress Up for the Theatre. 

Although the attire does change from day to evening performances, as well as regionally; many people still chose to dress up for theatre performances. Jeans are rarely appropriate. This is also true for orchestral concerts and ballets. Opera goes usually opt for black tie apparel, sporting tuxes and full length formal gowns. Take the opportunity to pull the tags off of that beautiful cocktail dress or grab a new dress shirt, and honor this tradition.  

Your Cell Phone Needs to be Off.

Not on silent mode, off. Aside from the obvious distracting qualities of texting or a blaring ringtone, there is a much, much bigger problem that cell phones cause. Crew members working backstage at a show communicate via wireless headset. Cell phone signals interfere with the headsets, making it very difficult to do their job. This leads to missed cues and a possibly botched performance.  Cell phones aren’t the only problem. Some people have even taken to bringing laptops to shows or other electronics to shows.  It is best to just shut off your phone and get lost in the performance. 

Be Respectful of Your Space.

It is common curtesy to pick your space before you leave. Don’t leave empty cups, soda cans, programs, or candy wrappers. Let the house managers go home to their families as early as possible.  Another problem that occurs is disrespectful lounging in the seats.  The chair in front of you is not a foot rest.  The pressure from your legs can pull the chairs from the floors. Which then have to be repaired at the theatre’s expense, which will drive ticket prices up. 

Quiet Off Stage.

Much enjoyment of the theatre comes from listening to it. Please keep your fellow audience members in consideration. Keep the conversation to a minimum and speak quietly. Try to wait until intermission to get up to use the restroom or to speak to your neighbor.

Don’t Explore.

The theatrical world is littered with stories of audience members walking on the stage, walking backstage, found wandering through tunnels or shops. This is not only inconsiderate, but also potentially unsafe. Actos and crew are used to the flow of the backstage area. During a high school show in my hometown, an audience member walked onto the stage. He then swung open a wing door, striking teenaged actress with great force and therefore injuring her. There are large moving set pieces, rotating sets, dark spaces, and extremely heavy weights.  There are always ushers to tell you where to go. Ask them politely for directions. 

 Keep these in mind for the next time you go to the theatre for the most enjoyable experience possible.