While I am not a glammy girly girly myself, I do respect the rituals of dressing up for the theatre for opening nights and events such as the opera and ballet. How unfortunate it is, therefore, that audience behaviour increasingly falls short of basic consideration for others with whom you are sharing the experience (including those on stage). So what are the etiquette expectations of which audiences need reminding?
- Don’t talk. Don’t repeat the funny lines or narrate what is everyone can clearly see for themselves is happening on stage. If you have an insightful observation to share with your companion, save it for intermission at the end of the show. If you are likely to forget it by then, too bad. Other people are interested in what is happening on stage, not what you have to say about it. Silence in a theatre is ok; in fact it can be powerful in its discomfort or resonance. Theatres have good acoustics for a reason and a whisper in the stalls is never just a whisper.
- Don’t eat. The theatre is not the movies. It is not ok to eat during a show. You are adults. You can go two hours without eating; you will not starve. The sound of you opening your Crunchie bar during the opera, clinking your glasses and wishing each other’s ‘cheers’ during a cabaret song, opening a packet of chips during the drama or sharing your lollies around during a play reading are disruptive to more than just those in your immediate vicinity, no matter how subtle you think you are being. And nothing is conducive to the pathos of a climatic death scene like the sound of someone opening their bottle of coke. (I have experienced all of these things in the past three months – not cool people, not cool).
- Turn off your phone. You might think that by checking your phone in your handbag, you are being clever, but you are not. Everyone beside you and for rows behind can see what you are doing, particularly when you haven’t even bothered to turn down its brightness setting.
- Be quiet. If you are sick and consequently coughing a lot, stay home. (I have a three month gap in my theatre going repertoire thanks to having pneumonia). A cough can be loud and can even disrupt those on stage. If it continues, leave the theatre. Don’t be selfish.
- Be polite. Be on time (you know that traffic and parking always have the potential to be issues so plan them); your time is not more valuable than anybody else’s. Apologise when forcing others to stand so as to allow you to your seat (especially when you are the last to arrive to your centre seats). Be gracious when allowing people past. It is one of the rituals of the theatre and in a society where rituals are being increasingly disregarded, it is an important part of the shared experience of being in an audience. And don’t be rude to the ushers when they remind you of any of these basic expectations; they are only doing their jobs and those of us who are mindful of these basics of theatre etiquette appreciate them for it.
I saw my one hundredth show of 2014 this past weekend. You would think that this would make me more tolerant of audience antics, however, in reality the reverse is true as I increasingly want to vent frustration with the hashtag #whatiswrongwithpeople (post show of course).
I am all for the democratisation of theatre, but who are these people? Live theatre is one of the most immediate of art forms and, as such, has a value beyond online passivity or cinema viewing. However, theatre is a shared experienced and in any shared experience you need to leave your selfish behaviour at home. Rant over.