Theatre Etiquette 101

I am an active theatre lover. I grew up going to the theatre, I went on to go to a performing arts high school, and was a music major in college, now I work at a performing arts organization. I guess you can say theatre is kind of my life. As a frequent theatre-goer (to say the least), I know one persons bad theatre etiquette can ruin the show for everyone else.

But I also know a lot of people don’t grow up around theatre, so they may not know the etiquette. I have seen a lot of people ask “I’m going to New York for my first Broadway show, what should I know?” And I know they are looking for tips on which shows are good, how to get good tickets, and so on. But once they have their tickets, they stop asking questions – when really, there is more to know.

If you have never been to a theatre performance before (opera, symphony, plays, Broadway) please obey these rules, and the night will be more enjoyable for everyone.

Dress appropriately

Most people don’t dress up for theatre like they used to. I’m not most people. I love putting on a fancy dress, pulling out my finest jewelry, and enjoying dinner and a show. This is totally my preference, and it’s definitely not expected or required anymore. However, this doesn’t mean you should wear your ripped jeans either. And ladies, avoid the frustration, and stay away from anything too short. You will be sitting for at least a couple hours, and a short skirt or dress WILL ride up, and you WILL be pulling it down the entire show.

Stay away from big hair

Please please please, no top knot buns, no beehives, not even a high ponytail. Think of the people who will be sitting behind you. All the sudden, they have seats with an obstructed view, but not from a column, but FROM YOUR HAIR. Don’t be that girl.

Don’t arrive late

This is a given. Get there early to find parking, find your seats, go to the restroom, and get a drink. If for some reason you get there late, please do not EVER enter mid-song. Wait in the back until there is a set change or some sort of transition. There’s nothing more annoying than someone taking their seat in the middle of the opening number.

Don’t get up and down

Don’t be that person who gets up in the middle of the show to use the bathroom or take phone calls. If you know you will be getting up and down a lot, be sure to ask for an aisle seat when buying your tickets. And if you absolutely MUST get up, remember what I said in #3, NEVER get up or sit down in the middle of a song. Wait for a transition, there will be one!

Don’t pull your phone out

Seriously, don’t. I don’t care how dim you have the screen, it’s rude, and distracting. And please don’t try to take pictures of the show. Take pictures of the theatre, of the marquee, a selfie in the lobby, MAYBE a photo of the stage before the lights go down, but that’s it. Silence it, and turn it off.

Don’t bring crunchy snacks

For the love of God, PLEASE do not bring crunchy snacks. No chips, no pretzels, no nuts. And don’t just think about the snack, think about the bag. If you want to bring a quieter snack (raisins are a safe choice!), consider transferring it to a ziplock bag before you leave, because crinkly bags are just as bad as crunchy snacks.

Don’t cough during silent parts

This one may sound silly. But the other day I was at a Broadway show, and it was a super serious moment – the entire theatre was silent, and you could hear a pin drop. All the sudden, someone COUGHS…loudly! It completely ruined the moment. If you have to cough or clear your throat, wait until a song, or at least until the silent, serious moment is over.

Don’t sing along

Again, this should be a given. But unfortunately, it’s not. Don’t get me wrong, if I’m seeing my favorite band, I’m screaming the lyrics along with them. But it’s not appropriate to sing along at a Broadway show, even if it’s your favorite song of all time. Trust me, I have to hold myself back too. This rule also applies to humming, or mouthing the words. The ONLY exception is when someone in the cast ASKS the audience to sing along or participate. I know Motown has a few numbers that the audience joins in for – that’s ok. Just please don’t act out Defying Gravity in your seat.

Stay through curtain call

Once the show ends, stay through curtain call. Curtain call is when all the actors/actresses/musicians/conductors are brought on stage for a final applause. I find it unbelievably rude when people leave in the middle of applause. Wait until everyone has been recognized, clap until everyone else is done, then you may leave the theatre.

Obey the two block rule

Maybe you hated the show. That’s ok, theatre is subjective. But don’t voice your opinions until you’re at least two blocks away. You never know if the director or the family of one of the cast members is walking out behind you. Avoid any awkward moments by obeying the two block rule.

Now go and be the best audience member in that theatre!

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6 thoughts on “Theatre Etiquette 101

  1. Some of these, you’re right, seem very obvious. However your points about having big hair and the two block rule were really good! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Love the two block rule! Honestly, nothing kills me more in a theater than seeing people in sweatpants. It’s not hard to pop on a sundress, or even jeans and nice top. Dressing up can be fun! Never thought about the sins I’ve committed with my hair though…. whoops!

    1. I made the hair mistake for years until I sat behind someone with a top bun once, and now I always wear my hair down or in a low bun haha. You live and you learn!

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