The Lost Art Of Theatre Etiquette
I’ve always been a stickler for theatre etiquette and I admit sometimes I have to relax and let go with this one. Somewhere in my youth, someone told me the “rights” and “wrongs” of how to behave as an audience member in the theatre.
So from day one of my drama teaching career, I have always instilled those values in my students when we go to the theatre. I make no apologies or excuses for it and in the hundreds of theatre shows I have taken students to over the years, I have probably only been embarrassed by my students’ behaviour a couple of times.
For me, it’s all about respect. Let’s face it, buying a ticket to the theatre these days isn’t cheap. You can get discounts when you search the Broadway Shows guide at TheaterMania.com though. People have paid good money to sit in the theatre and they deserve the right to enjoy the show without interruptions.
To this end, I have always avoided “student matinees” and wherever possible I go to the theatre with my students at night. I usually find the behaviour of adults in the audience something my own students can learn from. Plus, it’s great to see regular adult theatre-goers pleasantly surprised at the end of a show by the good behaviour of students around them.
Apart from not putting your feet on seats, chewing gum, talking during the show, having your mobile phone on or listening to your iPod, my biggest beef is eating during a theatre show. I have no problem with people munching quietly away, but I do have issues with their food wrappers!
So, why oh why (in Australia at least) do we allow food and drinks to be taken into the theatre for the blockbuster stage musicals like Wicked, Jersey Boys and the like? What sort of message are we sending to the general public about proper theatre etiquette when we allow potato crisp wrappers, ice cream wrappers and lolly/candy wrappers to be the cause of constant noise in the audience?
I understand the big stage musicals are not always aimed at the astute theatre-goer. It’s theatre for the masses and along with that comes many people who have never been to a theatre show before. I’m sure this is something we all encourage in the theatre industry worldwide, but these are the very people we should be sending the right message to about theatre etiquette, surely?
My experience of Billy Elliot was ruined last year by the noise of food wrappers and people in the audience talking all around me. My experience of a Cats revival was also ruined a few weeks ago by a 6 year-old girl jumping up and down in front of me and wriggling in her seat most of the show (umm … perhaps going to a matinee performance may have been a better idea for someone so young attending a 3-hour show). As soon as I blocked this out, her parents leaned over to each other and talked every two minutes. But that was nothing compared to the man behind me who decided the back of my seat needed a good kicking every time he changed crossing his legs!
Adding weight to my complaint is that most of these problems occur at shows we are asked to pay twice the price for. The average international musical here in Melbourne is around A$120, but you can easily pay A$160 for the good seats in the stalls. Why would I want to pay this sort of price for my theatre experience to be ruined by those around me talking through the show and making noise with their food wrappers? And why do we allow food and beverages into the auditoriums of large-scale musicals, while it is banned from regular mainstream theatre shows and venues, elsewhere?
The first rule I give all my Drama students attending the theatre for the first time, no matter what their age, is that the theatre is not the cinema. For starters, it is rarely as loud as the movies and is often deadly quiet in parts, demanding absolute silence in the audience. We don’t eat, don’t talk, don’t put our feet on seats in front of us and don’t play on our mobile phones during a theatre show. Put simply, we don’t distract those around us in the audience while watching a theatre performance. If the show is intimate, talking members of the audience can also distract the actors on stage. Unlike the movies that are cut up on an editing board and distributed on a reel to cinemas across the world, the theatre is a living art and demands a higher respect from those watching it.
Someone needs to remind the promoters and venue managers hosting blockbuster international stage musicals that when we pay $120+ for a ticket, we don’t expect food in the auditorium, the noise that goes with it or audience members talking throughout the show. Here’s a thought – how about a few points explaining proper theatre etiquette on the website at time of purchase and inside the envelope accompanying theatre tickets that get sent out in the mail? Most theatre companies have been doing this for some years in Melbourne for teachers to prepare their students for theatre shows (and I’m sure there are many examples in other cities and countries as well), but the general adult public needs this information, too.
I can’t recall whether food and beverages are allowed into the auditorium for Broadway shows? I’d love to know from anyone out there reading this post.
Sometimes, I feel like I’m just an old hag whinging about this topic. But then again, if we don’t protest, nothing is going to change for the better in the future.