1 Oct 2022

Etiquette for Theatre-Goers

Whether you are visiting the theatre or going to a concert this autumn, you will be in a crowded public space and your behaviour will have an impact on other people.

Theatre seats are a costly investment – we read reviews and listen to word of mouth before we take the plunge, but we can never guarantee that our night out is going to be an unqualified success, and we understand that there is always an inherent risk that we will not enjoy the play or concert.

However, there are other impediments to our enjoyment that are gratuitous. Many of us will have had the trauma of seeing our much-anticipated night out being ruined by restless neighbours, compulsive coughing, whispered conversations, mobile phones or rustling sweet papers. These disruptions are entirely avoidable, so brush up on your theatre etiquette, which is also applicable to concerts and operas, and ensure that you’re never the much-resented audience-member that is transgressing:

Theatres: The Ten Commandments

1.         Arrive in good time, ideally at least 15 minutes before the performance begins. This will give you time to buy a programme, visit the loo if necessary, and find your seat while causing minimum disruption to everyone else. Bear in mind that latecomers are not admitted to the auditorium until a suitable break in proceedings, and in some cases will have to wait until the interval.

2.         If you’ve got to squeeze your way down a row to get to your seat, repeatedly apologising, smiling and muttering ‘excuse me’ and ‘thank you’ will go a long way towards mollifying people who are already comfortably settled in their seats. Traditionally, etiquette dictated that seat-takers always faced the seated person, rather than presenting a back view.

3.         When you reach your seat, make sure that bags are stowed away under your seat so that the limited space available is not obstructed. If you are carrying a lot of bags and packages, check if there is a cloakroom facility (available at many venues) where you can check them in.

4.         Switch off your mobile phone before the performance begins. This may seem blindingly obvious, and many theatres will make reminder announcements before the curtain goes up, but ringing tones can still be heard from time to time in hushed theatres. It’s maddening for the performers and audience, and the reproachful glances of your near neighbours will also make it intensely embarrassing for you. Bear in mind that you are not allowed to use your phone to take photographs or film during performances.

5.         Don’t switch your phone to silent and use it to text during the performance. In a darkened auditorium a phone that is in use is a major light source, which will be an irritating distraction for your neighbours.

6.         You really don’t need to speak to your companions during the performance (unless there is an emergency, for example you’re suddenly feeling ill). All your observations or commentary about the play can be reserved (briefly) for the pauses between acts or scene-changes, or ideally for the interval. Whispered conversations are always audible to neighbours.

7.         It’s always a good idea to come to a theatre or concert performance equipped with a bottle of water. If you have a ticklish throat you might be able stave off a noisy coughing fit with a sip of water – of course, coughing is sometimes unavoidable, but try and keep it to a minimum.

8.         Theatres sell treats, such as sweets and chocolates, and you may well feel tempted to indulge – just bear in mind that noisy rustling of sweet papers can also be a distraction for neighbours. If you feel compelled to unwrap a sweet or chocolate during the performance, try and wait for a suitable opportunity (applause, a particularly cacophonous passage of music, noisy audience laughter).

9.         If you’re in the middle of a row, try to return to your seat promptly after the interval; that way you’ll minimise disruption for people sitting nearby.

10.       Applaud loudly and generously at the end of the performance – even if you have been disappointed, you owe the performers an acknowledgement.

Following these rules will ensure that you have done your best show consideration to fellow audience-members and respect to performers. Of course, there will always be inconveniences that are beyond your control – if you are unlucky enough to be seated behind an exceptionally tall person, you’ll just have to grin and bear it, and remind yourself that – however obstructive their back view appears to be – they should not be held accountable for their height…


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