Quiet Please – is theatre etiquette on the way out?

Craig Dalglish explores audience etiquette after some frustrating experiences in the theatre of late…

Image by Benjamin Thompson

The theatre is a sacred place where one can go and immerse oneself in a world of make believe. From flying nannies to singing phantoms, anything is possible. It’s a place where one can forget the worries of the world and become one with the performers on stage.

Well, that is what it used to be.

With the ever increasing technological advances in the world, come greater distractions. It appears humans are no longer able to cut themselves off from the rest of the world for three hours and become immersed in the make believe world before them.

Theatre etiquette (or lack thereof) really gets my goat. So, if you fit into any of the following scenarios – all of which are true – it might be time to reassess your theatre-going custom and practise…

The Dreaded Mobile Phone

Ten years ago, the greatest distraction to an audience was the rattle of the chip packet or a patron that felt it necessary to sing along. Now, it’s the mobile phone illuminating the theatre while rude patrons update their status on facebook, text their BFF, check the latest scores of the football match currently playing nearby, or take video footage and photos of the performers to post on YouTube.

The announcement at the commencement of the performance always tells us to switch them off – please, for the benefit of the show, the performers and the other 1799 people in the auditorium, leave your social life at home for the duration of the piece.

Chattering Charlie

It seems that there is also an increasing number of patrons who just don’t understand how inappropriate it is to speak during a performance, commenting throughout as if they are in their lounge room. And there is always the amorous couple, fondling each other and kissing at the end of each musical number.

We are not at the movies  – discussion can take place at interval and after the show. Not only is it difficult for the performers to concentrate (particularly in a small theatre), it makes it hard for the rest of the audience to hear. Pipe down!

Theatre isn’t Sport

A gentleman at a recent performance I attended, had obviously been dragged along by his wife during cricket season. While first assuming that I could hear the usher’s radio system nearby, it became obvious a few minutes later that the man was wearing an earpiece, and was listening to the cricket!

Another instance of attending a theatrical performance for ‘sport’ was the gaggle of teenage girls who saw a play which came with a “nudity” warning. Throughout the whole performance they talked about their planned weekend, obviously only attending the play to see the male performer to get his gear off. When he finally did they proceeded to review his manly bits and finally agreed they “thought it would be bigger than that!”

Don’t provoke the Ushers

My final tale involves a woman in the centre front row, taking photographs during a performance. After several warnings from the ushers, theatre management decided to call in a six foot tall security guard. He walked down the aisle, at the most dramatic part of the performance, and stood in the bleeding light shrugging his shoulders at the ushers as he was unable to locate the woman. Needless to say, the poor ushers (who were only doing their job), received a barrage of abuse from patrons whose experience of the performance had been ruined by this selfish audience membe

So, please turn your mobile phones off and immerse yourself in the make believe world before you. The real world won’t miss you for three hours. Open all chip, lolly and plastic wrappers before the show and please don’t talk during the performance. Go out for dinner or coffee afterwards and discuss the performance.

And if you really don’t want to go and see the show, stay home. Give the ticket to someone else.

Do you have any frustrating tales from your night at the theatre?  Feel free to share your stories.

5 thoughts on “Quiet Please – is theatre etiquette on the way out?

  • Singing along is still an issue, there are some shows where performers welcome it, but when the lady sitting next to me at ‘Wicked’ started singing along I wanted to politely remind her that I paid to hear the performers, not her.

    Other worst story was when I saw a play at the Drama theatre at the Sydney Opera House, shortly before the show started the elderly lady sitting on my right proceeded to vomit on herself and the floor, her daughter next to her just sat there next to her rubbing her back but doing nothing about it. Only when she was done did they get up to leave, not apologizing to anyone, nor did they inform any of the staff as the play shortly started and I sat next to the vomit mess for the entire show (no interval) not being able to inform staff until after as we were sitting in the middle of the row. Certainly a memorable evening, and those around us, myself included had a really good chuckle when one of the characters projectile vomited as part of the show

    •  This story is just unbelievable!  I don’t think I could have sat there at all, sorry – give me a refund!  There are some very strange people out there.

  • How about those who put their feet up on the seat in front during the show? I thought it only happened in movies….and its interesting that Ushers at some venues immediately instruct the person to put them down and at others they are permitted to leave them up.

    • Mobile phones are so annoying during a performance. Speaking of ear pieces, I use Audio Descriptipin which is through a radio transmitter. It explains the visual elements like facial expressions or costumes that help tell the story in between dialogue for someone with a vision impairment. It helps me enjoy the show. I have had people tell me I shouldn’t have that with me because it’s a radio. It makes me feel unwelcome but the audio descriptions is something I can’t do without as I can’t enjoy in the same way as a sighted person.

  • I consider myself fortunate that I actually disagree with Craig that theatre “etiquette” is diminishing (not so in the cinema where my nerves are on edge wondering if the ‘chattering classes’ will ever shut up!)  It is rare for me to feel uncomfortable with theatre-goers behaviour, status of inebriation, or dress …. although, “thongs, really??” has crossed my mind.  However, over the past couple of years, I have been surprised to see patrons entering the theatre with drinks in hand – glowing or not, is this really something to encourage? Is it the thin end of the wedge?


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