Are Theatre Audiences Changing?


Lewis Baird

Many people go to the theatre to escape the hustle and bustle of modern society and want to be taken on a journey, different from the life they live in. A vast percentage of those who go to the theatre enjoy to watch their evening/afternoon’s performance without the disruption of people talking, rowdy crowds, loud eaters and most of all, the bright screens of mobile phones. However, recently, regular theatergoers are finding themselves encountering more and more disturbances during performances, thanks to audience members around them. This raises the question, are theatre audiences changing?

I think one of the main reasons that there has been a rise in disruption within theatres, is because of the kind of productions that are touring, running within London’s west end or running on Broadway. There is a considerable amount of commercial productions showing, which will entice patrons who have never set foot within a theatre before. There are many screen to stage adaptations which are peaking the interests of people who love the film and want to see it live. Or there are shows which are biographical and follow mainstream artists; therefore, the fans of that artist come to the theatre to relive the nostalgia. And last but not least, everyone loves a jukebox musical for a night out, they are promised to be entertained.

So, you ask, why would these people cause disturbances within the theatre? Well, there are several reasons. Some patrons of the theatre expect these shows to be like a concert, so they can get up to dance or sing-along whenever they want, and they do this without realizing it’s not correct theatre etiquette. Some patrons are just there for a night out with friends, so their main aim is to have a great night, have a few drinks, plus spend time with pals, rather than enjoy the performance; this could cause them to get a bit too drunk and disturb the audience around them. However, of course, it is at this point that the front of house team will step in and make sure that your night is not spoiled. Then there is the final reason, where someone has booked a show, realized it’s not for them halfway through, got bored, started being disruptive, don’t particularly care about the people around them and end up ruining your night.

I know from my experience, and also hearing other people’s experience, that there is a lot of disruption within audiences of particular productions which peak the interests of pretty much everyone. It does mean that there is a high chance that there’s going to be issues with people who are not familiar with the theatre experience. Recently a patron asked me during a show I was front of house for, why no one was standing up, dancing and singing, this question was asked during the interval of a brilliant musical, I had to explain to him that this was not a concert and was, in fact, more like a cinema experience where you are watching a story unfold in front of you, however at the end you will have a chance to sing and dance. The patron understood, yet halfway through act two, I had to tell them several times to get their phone away. And they asked after the show why they were not allowed their phone out, and I explained that it disrupts the audience members around them and the actors on stage would be able to see the light from their screen. The patron was very apologetic, plus understood why we were very strict with phones and disturbances.

This is only one of mine and my colleague's experience of where it is obvious the patron has not been aware of what happens within a theatre environment. I would say there needs to be more education out there for audience members, but there are clear signs and announcements in the theatre I work in and also those I visit. So, it just appears that there is a lot of occasions where the audiences are ignoring the clear signs and causing issues for the front of house, plus the patrons trying to enjoy the performance.

Theatre is being made more accessible, which I think is absolutely brilliant, as it means our theatres are filling up with people who are viewing a show for the first time, and because of that, they may follow a career in the arts, or even just come back time and time again to see a production at their local theatre. But the feeling that some avid theatergoers are getting is that their local theatres are no longer a safe space, this is due to a minority of audience members being disruptive by talking, drinking heavily, using mobile phones and even in some VERY rare occasions there is fighting.

To me, it seems that theatre audiences have changed in recent years compared to the ones I had experienced when I was younger. This is because going to the theatre, is once again a popular activity, which we should all be so glad it is, as it gives our favourite theatres and productions a boost, and also introduces new people into the world we love. The 21st-century culture is clashing with the old-fashioned aura that comes with the theatre; it just means that there is always going to be some issues. However, rather than blame theatres or productions for matters which are completely out of their hands, just spread the word that the theatre is a place which deserves respect and good manners to the other audience members around you, as well as the building itself. I can ensure you that the front of house team at your local theatre will do the best they can to make sure that every patron gets the best experience while visiting the theatre.

On that note, if you’re unhappy with the way someone is acting around you, rather than waiting until the end of the show to report it, and ruin your overall experience, tell the front of house team immediately! They are there with the purpose of making sure that you get to see the show you have spent your hard-earned money on.

Also, if you have a friend going to the theatre for the first time, tell them what the experience is like, while also noting what's acceptable, and what’s not... just in case.