A Handy Guide to Theatre Etiquette (For Beginners)

Written by Kaitlin Bellamy

October 10, 2017

Cellphones. Stage actors can see the annoying little glow, and we can hear the disrupting vibration. Those are just a couple of the laundry list of annoyances that can ruin a good theatre-going experience for everyone. Here’s a helpful list of Do’s and Don’ts to help you avoid being that person.

1. Unplug

TURN. OFF. YOUR. CELL. PHONE. Don’t just put it on vibrate, then check it surreptitiously during the show. Turn it off. Just give us two hours of your time, unplugged. We work very hard to make it worth your while.

2. Be Early

If you’re late, not only will you disrupt the performers and your peers, you might miss more than you planned. Ushers are often instructed to hold late audience members in the lobby until a certain moment has passed. Even if you barely miss the curtain, you might be stuck outside for ten minutes. Rule of thumb: If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re already late.

3. Stay In Your Bubble

It’s simple, really: You paid for ONE SEAT. Stick to it. Keep your purse, coat, and children out of the aisles. Share the arm rests. The seat in front of you is not a footrest. And, you’d think I wouldn’t have to mention it but Broadway audiences have proved me wrong — electrical outlets on the stage ARE NOT FOR YOUR PERSONAL USE! Keep to your own space.

4. No Peer Policing

Remember, you’re here to enjoy the show, not to police the rest of the audience. Other people might be breaking the rules by talking, but it’s up to the theatre staff to take care of it. Instead, bring the problem to an usher’s attention.

5. Know Your Limitations

My grandmother is a lovely woman, but mostly deaf and refuses to admit that she’s hard of hearing. If you are going to see a show, and you have special needs, don’t be ashamed of them. Speak up, and let the theatre help make accommodations. It is so much better than spending two hours asking (at full volume) “What did they say?”

6. Eat Before, Not During

Unless it is actually Dinner Theatre, please don’t eat during the performance. Concessions should be limited to the lobby during intermission unless it is specifically stated otherwise. In the rare cases where food is allowed, please continue to be respectful. No loud wrappers during tense moments of silence. Even gum can be distracting.

7. No Paparazzi

When we say no photos, we mean it. Flash pictures are especially annoying, and even dangerous. In a dark theatre, those flashes are blinding. But even without flash, the constant clicking is highly disruptive to the people around you. Professionals are often brought in to film or take promo shots, so unless you were specifically hired for it, leave the camera at home.

8. Quiet, Please

Please, for the love of Shakespeare, shush. No talking during the performance. Feel free to laugh. Feel free to react. But reacting is different than commentating. And please, I’m begging you, no matter how much you love a musical, don’t sing along.

Kaitlin Bellamy is a freelance performer and writer, with a theatrical history spanning more than 25 years. She embraces the philosophy that multiple jobs at once makes it impossible for life to get boring. Above all, she is passionate about the performing arts, and all that they stand for.