Here in the UK, we are privileged to have a vast array of such wonderful theatres. We have the bright lights of the West End with its huge productions and international box office smashes, the incredible array of regional theatres producing their own very high quality shows and providing venues for wonderful touring productions and those little community theatres which provide immense pleasure for those both performing and viewing the amateur productions and the more off-beat shows.
So, given the gift of theatre that we are given, is it really so hard for people to behave in a manner befitting? I have increasingly noted that theatre etiquette is sadly lacking, which is a shame when you have paid a not insignificant amount of money for your ticket, only to have the joys of watching a live performance tainted by the severely lacking social skills of those around you. Only last night at the theatre, I had to engage in my now regular pastime of telling audience members around me to please be quiet. I am quickly developing into a habitual “shush-er”, when really, I shouldn’t have to engage in such a disruptive and unpleasant activity.
So, following a frustrating evening listening to the old woman three seats down talk about how her neighbour had slipped a disc (yes, really – this was an actual discussion taking place during the performance) and listening to the guy two rows behind singing along with every musical number, I have written this cut out and keep guide to theatre etiquette. There are seven simple steps to take to ensure that everyone has a pleasant evening.
Rule 1 – Keep it buttoned. There is absolutely no need to talk during the play or show. If you want to have a night out with your friends and have a good old chin-wag, then instead of spending £35 each on a theatre ticket, spend it on booze in a pub, where you can chat away to your heart’s content.
Rule 2 – Keep it in your pocket. There is a reason why, at the start of every performance, there is a request to turn off your mobile phone. Even if it is on silent, it doesn’t prevent you from annoying the people around you by checking your Facebook, twitter, emails or texts every five minutes. Seriously, if you cannot live for two hours (or even an hour if you know that the interval is coming up) without checking whether your friend’s status has changed or to see if someone has posted a hilarious picture of a kitten in a wine glass, then you either need to stay in your home indefinitely or obtain some therapeutic intervention.
Rule 3 – Keep ‘em still. Tapping your feet to the musical numbers is a terrific compliment to the composer, but there is no need to use your feet to rhythmically tap out each bar to the song on the seat in front of you, much to the annoyance of the theatre goer occupying your impromptu percussion instrument. Equally, there is no need to announce to the four rows around you that “Oh…I like this one”, when the opening bar of a song is played.
Rule 4 – Keep your vocal chords in check. Just because you think you sound great singing along to your Grease soundtrack CD in the shower doesn’t mean that you can undertake an encore performance in the middle of the theatre. People have come to hear the performers sing, not listen to your out of tune caterwauling. So, you know some of the words to the songs – well done – but please don’t feel the need to demonstrate your lyrical knowledge.
Rule 5 – Keep it real. Just because you once performed in an amateur production of Sweeny Todd, it doesn’t mean that you have to recite the script with the actors on stage, tell your companion how your scenes were done differently to the ones on the stage or hum along to the music. Also, just because it is an amateur production and you have only paid a few quid for your ticket; it does not negate the need to be respectful to those around you. Equally, with amateur productions, just because you vaguely know one of the cast members because she is your next door neighbour’s best friend’s babysitter’s dog walker doesn’t give you the right to talk all the way through the show.
Rule 6 – Keep it on time. It’s not that difficult to get somewhere on time. If the show starts at 7.15pm, then aim to get to theatre for 7pm. Distracting the audience by making a kerfuffle arriving late and disrupting an entire row of people to get to your seats in the middle of the row halfway through the opening number is very off-putting.
Rule 7 – Keep it in the seat. Leaning forward in your seat, especially in the Balcony, simply blocks the view of the person behind you. That leads to them having to lean forward, blocking the view of the person behind them…. and like ripples on the surface of a pond caused by a stone being casually tossed into the still water, the effect spreads out until the majority of people have a blocked view. Also, if you are tall, as I am, be mindful of the person behind you. It doesn’t hurt to sit a little lower in your seat. After all, no one has come to the theatre to see a performance by the back of your head.
Rule 8 – Don’t have a top bun…
It’s not hard, is it? Please note that the majority of this guide applies equally to the cinema as well.
Joking aside, it is a case of common courtesy both to the performers on stage and those around you. I know an increasing number of theatre goers who share my frustrations. The thing is, everyone’s experience is enhanced by a little courtesy and those who chat their way through the show may actually find they enjoy it even more if they actually sit and watch it, instead of tweeting, emailing, and texting before engaging in a four minute conversation by asking their companion what they have just missed!