Friday, June 20, 2014

Basic Theater Etiquette for Audiences

I'm sorry I haven't written in a while. Life keeps getting away from me, but I'm back today with a rant of sorts. A couple of weeks ago, I attended ballet recitals for Laura and Juliet. They attend a professional dance school that produces an impressive roster of recitals every spring. The school uses a real theater with assigned seating, sets, lighting design--the works. It would have been a wonderful theatrical experience if it hadn't been for the appalling behavior of the audience. As you know, I have a lot of experience as an audience member and a little experience backstage as well, but I don't think it takes any experience to recognize that some audience members' self-centered behavior threatened to ruin the show for those around them. I can't believe they don't know the basics of theater etiquette, but I thought I would offer a few pointers for novice audience members. 

Arrive a few minutes early. Most theaters will not seat latecomers because of the disruption it will cause. Not only does it distract both audience and performers to have latecomers fumbling though the dark to their seats, the light from the lobby will pour through the open door. Depending on the design of the theater, it sometimes casts a beam of light onto the stage, disrupting the lighting design. Get there early so that you can find your seat and read through the playbill before the show begins.

Be quiet. This seems like a no-brainer, but the audience at my daughters' recitals had a problem with it. Even if it's not your kid on the stage, others around you probably want to enjoy the show. Don't talk. Don't even whisper unless you really really have to. Turn of your cell phone (you can't answer it during the show anyway). Don't rustle papers or candy wrappers--the acoustics in theater buildings make it so that everyone can hear you.

Lights off. Lots of people in the recital audience used flashlight apps to read their programs. The theater is dark for a reason. Those lights were very distracting and detracted from the lighting design on the stage. One audience member rested her flashlight on her lap and cast a huge pool of light on the ceiling. In the center of the pool of light was a shadow of her head and hands. I understand the desire to follow along with the playbill so we know where we are in the program, but you just can't do it. That's the way it goes in the theater. Remember that your mobile devices are very bright in a darkened theater, so no texting, please.

Don't take flash photos. This one is especially important for a dance performance. Those flashes can cause the dancers to fall and hurt themselves. At best, it's distracting. At worst, it's dangerous because it interferes with their spotting technique. Some theaters will not allow any photography at all because of patents on their architecture. Try to be aware of photography rules before you begin snapping away.

Stay in your seat. If you follow my first rule (arrive early) you should be able to take care of all your needs before the house lights go down--visit the restroom, call the baby sitter, get a drink of water.  Then you can leave your real life behind and enter the world invented for you by the performance.

Go easy with fragrance. I like perfume, but sadly some perfumes give me raging migraines. I know I'm not alone in this, so as a courtesy to those who are near you and can't get away, please use only a little fragrance or skip it altogether.

Some theaters offer etiquette advice on their websites. Here are some examples:

And here are some other resources:

Now, enjoy the show!