An Introduction to Theatre Etiquette

There’s something absolutely magical about stepping into a theatre. The thrill of anticipation that runs down your spine as the orchestra begins to play, the hush that falls over the crowd as the curtain lifts – it’s an experience unlike any other. And it’s best enjoyed when everyone respects the unwritten rules of the theatre. But what are they?

The Pillars of Theatre Etiquette

At its heart, theatre etiquette is about showing respect for the performers who have worked tirelessly to present a show, and for your fellow audience members, who, just like you, are there to be captivated by the magic of the theatre.

The first and most important rule is to make sure your mobile phone is switched off – and not just on silent. Even a phone’s vibration or the glow of a screen will distract those around you (and potentially the performers). Similarly, if you have an Apple Watch (or similar), turn it onto theatre mode. That stops the screen coming on and lighting up every time you lift your hands to applaud.

A major part of theatre etiquette is to keep talking and other noises to an absolute minimum during the performance. Whispered comments, rustling wrappers, and especially singing along (unless encouraged by the performers) draws focus away from the stage and create a ripple of distraction throughout the auditorium. Remember, live theatre isn’t like watching a movie at home – everyone can hear you!

The origins of these rules are deeply rooted in the respect for the art of theatre. There’s a profound magic in the live, transient nature of a theatrical performance. Each show is an irreplicable moment in time, shaped by the performers, the audience, and even the atmosphere of the day. Disturbances like mobile phones and chatter fracture that delicate spell, jolting everyone back into the mundane reality outside the theatre doors.

The Cost of Breaching Etiquette

Now, it might be easy to dismiss these rules as stiff or old-fashioned. But let’s take a moment to consider their impact. On one side, we have the performers. They’ve spent months honing their characters, learning lines, rehearsing scenes. A single distraction can throw them off, sometimes with significant consequences.

People come to the theatre for a variety of reasons: to escape, to feel, to think, to be entertained. When someone disrespects the etiquette, it can disrupt that experience for others. The cost of a ticket can be quite substantial. It’s not only courteous but also fair to ensure everyone gets their money’s worth.

Etiquette Beyond Noise

While turning off mobiles and keeping quiet are two of the most significant rules of theatre etiquette, there are more to consider. For instance, there’s the matter of punctuality. It’s crucial to arrive on time. Late entrances can be as disruptive as a ringing phone. Imagine being deep in the grips of a dramatic scene only to have it interrupted by a latecomer stumbling down the aisle, searching for their seat.

Furthermore, if you know you’ll need to leave your seat during the performance (beyond designated intermissions), aim for an aisle seat when booking. There’s nothing more awkward than having to clamber over a row of seated people mid-act!

And while we’re on the topic of intermissions, let’s talk about the rush to the toilets. Always wait until the interval to leave your seat, unless it’s an absolute emergency. And when that time comes, remember to be quick and orderly to allow everyone ample time.

The Joys of Good Etiquette

Following theatre etiquette isn’t just about avoiding faux pas – it will enrich your theatre-going experience. There’s a shared camaraderie among a respectful audience, a sense of collective entrancement that can elevate the performance on stage. It’s as if the audience, in their silence and attentiveness, becomes a part of the performance, reacting as one to the unfolding drama.

Nothing here is rocket science. But you’d be amazed how often people ignore these basic rules. Please, don’t be that person.