Theatre Etiquette – A Gentle Reminder

Just a reminder of some things that have come up at theatres this summer.  We all hear the announcements – turn off your phone and unwrap your candy before the show begins.  But are folks paying attention?

Turn off your phones and don’t look at them, even if you think you’ve dimmed the light.  And no texting.  Broadway star Sutton Foster sent out a tweet telling the audience “Just an FYI.  If you think we can’t see you texting during a show, you are wrong.”   And please don’t wear watches that light up when you clap.

theatre etiquetteTake note of where your seats are located – maybe you even need to check a theatre diagram online before the show.  If your seat is in the centre, and you have to make your way past many other seats, please make sure you get there early and sit down, so that you are not climbing over everyone else once they are settled.  In any case, please take your seats in plenty of time to look over the program.  A message from the director, or a synopsis of plot (especially if you’re seeing an unfamiliar Shakespeare) can really enhance your enjoyment of the show.  Look over the actors and read their bios.  I love to know where they are from and what they’ve done before – and find out if I’ve seen them on stage previously.

Try to avoid coming in late.  A few years ago, at a production of Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert, some latecomers arrived noisily, finally taking their seats in the third row centre.  One of the beautiful drag queens on stage, leaned forward, speaking to the latecomers.  “Can I get you anything?” she asked sweetly, “Like a watch?”

More and more theatres are allowing food and drink in the theatre.  It’s ironic that many of them ask you to unwrap candy before the show starts, but they sell you a plastic container filled with jujubes and expect you to remove the tight fitting lid quietly.  I’ve always been leery of drinks in theatre, ever since a child dumped a full glass of sticky pop in the hood of my coat at Mary Poppins in Detroit a few years ago.  And plastic wine glasses – that’s the latest scourge.  You hear the empty glass hit the floor and then roll forward until someone’s foot stops it.

Don’t talk.  You’re not at home, sitting in your recliner, discussing a TV show.  At the Shaw Festival this season, we were watching Uncle Vanya, which is a heart-wrenching drama.  The two people behind us were discussing each character as they came and went.  Then because of their constant talking, they were missing the plot.  “Is that the mother or the nanny?” she asked.  “The mother,” he said and he was dead wrong.  50-50 chance and he blows it.  I was so tempted to turn around and say, “That’s the nanny, now please be quiet and pay attention.” But I bit my tongue.

Even worse, are those who discuss things not even related to the show.  More than once I have heard people at a matinee having a discussion during the performance about where they will go for dinner.  I’ve also heard others loudly “shush” them.  I’ve never resorted to a shush; it’s almost as annoying as the original talking. I have tried to glare at talkers, but it’s not very effective in a dark theatre, even though it makes me feel better.

Sit still – some theatres are tight – please, stretch your legs a bit, but don’t kick the seat in front of you.  I was at a show recently where the person behind me kept sliding his feet up the back of my chair, jarring me each time.  So at intermission, I had decided to nicely ask that he please try not to kick my chair.  But then I noticed the man and his wife were switching seats, so I thought, “Good, he won’t be bothering me,” and I didn’t say anything.  Alas, his wife in her high heels did the same thing, running her foot up the back of my seat, with her heel catching the fabric, jolting me even more!

If you’re sitting in front row balcony, don’t set things on the ledge.  During a performance of Kinky Boots at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto, someone set a child’s booster seat on the ledge.  It fell to the orchestra seats below, injuring a patron.  The show had to be stopped while the ambulance came for the audience member, who was taken to hospital.  I confess that I once had a pen roll off the ledge, hitting a person below – luckily there were no injuries, but I have never put anything on the ledge again.

Show your appreciation.  Clap when it’s good.  Recently we were in Toronto to see a show, and after the first song and dance number, the audience applauded, of course.  A woman sitting next to us said in disgust “Oh, no, they are going to clap after every song.  I hate that; it just slows everything down.”   Can you imagine, the ensemble is on stage, singing their hearts out, dancing their feet off,  and then they hit the button at the end of the number, and the theatre is silent?

And oh, yes.  Please remove your hat.  I once sat behind a row of Red Hat ladies out on a bus trip.  Only about half of them took off their purple-bow-festooned, big, red hats.


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