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Audience Etiquette

Many well-known performers have directly confronted audience members in relation to bad theatre etiquette.

Tony Winning performer Hugh Jackman famous for his role as Wolverine was in the middle of an emotional speech in “A Steady Rain” at the opening night performance on Broadway when a mobile phone rang. The incident was recorded and is available to see on YouTube where Jackman asks the offending audience member if they “Wanna get that?”

Jackman’s Costar James Bond actor Daniel Craig, had a similar incident a few days before when a phone began ringing and he also addressed the offender.

Veteran Musical Theatre star Lea Salonga took to Facebook earlier in the year and wrote this

“More cellphone users at plays and concerts. You guys have zero manners, zero breeding, zero empathy. If all you’re gonna do while sitting in the front row of a play is hunch over your phone, do everyone a favor and leave. Your presence is disruptive and disrespectful to the actors and the audience. Take your entitled ass somewhere else.

Money may get you theater tickets and your state of the art cellphone, but it can’t buy you class”.

While acclaimed actress Glenn Close who played Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction and Nova Prime in Guardians of the Galaxy,

was in the middle of a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard when she noticed someone taking photos.

I’m sorry, stop the show, someone there is taking photos” Glenn announced.

“You must know how distracting and disrespectful that is. Now we can have a show or a photo shoot”

Have theatre audiences gone too far?

It is forbidden under New York State Law to take photos during a performance and most shows have announcements before the production begins.

Similar problems happen at the movies. At a recent screening of the new film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”, an audience member stood up and began filming. An usher told her to stop which she did; until he turned his back, and then she got her phone out and continued to film until the usher came back and told her to put her phone away.

Messages and warnings at the beginning of shows often do not seem to deter audience members from still pulling their phone out of their pockets or bags when they get bored during a film.

One of the issues with using a phone during a show, is that the illumination of the screen can be very distracting during the performance. I know myself when I am on stage performing it can be distracting seeing lights of phones flashing in the audience and when I am an audience member watching a stage or screen, then it can be equally annoying seeing flashing lights in my peripheral vision.

The LA Times did a piece in 2017 about how moviegoers treat Theatres like their own living rooms.

They cited talking, texting and eating nosily as things audience members do, without considering the people around them.

Self-awareness is perhaps the key here, thinking about how your behavior can directly affect others.

Audiences almost need to go to the theatre with some insight of how to get the most out of their theatre experience both for themselves and the rest of the theatre paying audience. In this day and age when everything has become so immediate, asking someone to sit quietly and still in a dark space for two or three hours is almost unnatural but there are definitely things that parents can think about when they are taking youngsters to the theatre.

When I was a child my Mother would often take me to the ballet. My Mother loved the ballet and wanted to share her love of it with me. So she would take me to productions of “Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake and “Carmen”. She would spend time leading up to the show, explaining the story and also playing the music from the ballet in the car or at home.

When we went to see it, this would only deepen my appreciation of the ballet. She would do the same thing if we were going to see a movie and would try and find out information about the film that would make it more enjoyable.

She would also gently instruct me not to talk during the show but to save my questions for the end. Afterwards she would treat me to afternoon tea and we would discuss the performance and I would ask her questions and she would also ask me questions about it.

This only helped me to develop more awareness of how to behave at the Theatre or Cinema and in many ways it would make the whole experience more exciting and special.

Going to the theatre can be a wonderful shared experience and I am grateful to my Mother for helping me to develop ways to make it more enjoyable. I now have an acute awareness when I go to the cinema about not talking, or moving around too much but also about immersing myself in the production so that I can get more out of the show.

When I became an usher, I developed a different appreciation of Theatre etiquette. This was about respect for the performers onstage. Many shows would have a lockout period, when latecomers would need to wait for an appropriate moment for the audience to be allowed into the theatre.

As an usher we would deal with many angry Theatre goers who would turn up late and not understand why they could not just enter the auditorium.

One of the many reasons for this is that in a ballet, the dancers often have to perform many complicated routines. These can potentially be dangerous. There needs to be a certain amount of light in the theatre, when you are bringing audience members in, so that no one falls and hurts themselves and ushers customarily use torches to help guide latecomers to their seats. Torches flashing around an auditorium can be distracting to dancers especially if they need to perform dangerous leaps or jumps.

As ticket prices for the cinema and theatre, continue to increase, audiences do have a responsibility to have an awareness of the audience around them. Everyone is investing not only their hard earned dollars, but also their time to enjoy seeing a show. Imagine the person sitting next to you has never been to the theatre before; imagine they have flown halfway across the world to see their favorite performer in a show. Do you really want to ruin their experience by trying to catch a Pokémon, during a romantic ballad in a musical, or asking your friend how their weekend has been during a tense dramatic scene in a film or forgetting to turn your phone onto silent before the production begins?

Certainly you want to avoid the wrath of Wolverine or 007 publicly shaming you in front of the rest of the audience, but hopefully your motivation for being a responsible theatre goer is also about respecting the rest of the audience and also the performers onstage and helping to make your own experience of the Theatre a very special and enjoyable adventure.

Let us know your thoughts.

Do you agree that audiences have a part to play, when it comes to etiquette in shows?

By Michael Sharmon

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