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10 Things to Never Do at the Theatre

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by Geri Silver (subscribe)
I'm a postgraduate Media and Communications student at City University London from the United States. Check out my blog at:
Published November 23rd 2012
The following list needs little introduction. Simply never ever do these things when you go see a show. Ever.

1. Don't Arrive Late

This is a big no-no. I don't care if you have to sprint like Forrest Gump through the crowds of a busy street or if you have to be that obnoxious person who forcibly opens the closing doors of a train to squeeze on. There is no such thing as being 'fashionably late' to the theatre. Period.

2. Don't Use Your Programme as a Fan.

So you're starting to feel a bit warm in the theater. How convenient, you think to yourself, as you reach for your programme and begin to fan yourself. Do not ever do this. Using your programme as a fan is hugely distracting to anyone sitting near or behind you, especially for those who are now subjected to their direct view of the stage being impeded by your self-made cooling device. Unless you are attending an outdoor performance on a hot summer day, it's just not necessary and makes you look bored. Also, from a practical standpoint, sitting still is more likely to cool you down than engaging in excessive movement with a few pieces of paper stapled together.

3. Don't Eat

This is a tricky one, considering most theaters directly encourage this insidious behaviour by selling deliciously crunchy snacks (albeit at a way overpriced cost). Many theaters nowadays make pre-show announcements with the giggle-inducing quip along the lines of, "If you are going to eat sweets, please unwrap them now." Laugh all you want, but seriously, do it. Even if you think you're being subtle, slowly crinkling the bag and then carefully unwrapping a sweet corner by corner, you're not doing anyone any favours. We can hear you, and taking longer to do it just extends the amount of time we're distracted by your noise. Please avoid doing this at all costs.

Stop it. Photo: Anders Lagerås (Wikimedia Commons)

4. Don't Talk During the Show

Wow, there sure is a lot going on during this play, I'm not sure what to make of it. If only I knew what my neighbor thought, said no one, ever. You may have a plethora of brilliant comments and opinions while viewing a play, but simply make a mental note and save them for later. I assure you, people will not be pleased to hear your voice during a performance. If a character is about to make a huge mistake, I'm sorry to inform you that the play has already been written, and the character will continue toward his or her fate whether or not you scream "No!". Whether it's a hushed whisper or a full on outburst, just don't. The same absolutely goes for singing along to popular numbers, perhaps with even more urgency.

5. Don't Laugh Excessively at Inappropriate Times

We all know that sometimes people respond to uncomfortable situations with nervous laughter. However, when a play is at its climax and the two lead characters have just been shot dead, an outburst of hysterical laughter is simply not appropriate. You are entitled to about. 5 seconds of innate, uncontrollable reaction time, but then it is only appropriate to continue your personal reaction in silence.

6. Don't Use Your Phone or Any Other Electronic Devices

This is a big one. Most people know that allowing your phone to make noise during a performance is one of the most overtly rude theatre etiquette violations in existence. They then decide to be 'polite' by putting the phone on vibrate, and using their hands to blockade the light from the screen as they discreetly text during the performance. Here's a tip that actually applies to many of the rules on this list, and this one especially: you're not as discreet as you think you are. Your neighbors can hear the vibrations and see you texting. Neither are acceptable. If you're a parent of an angsty teenager, please inform him or her of this before entering the theater-- also not to use headphones and listen to iPods during a show. You'd think this was common sense, but I'm only saying it because I've seen it.

No. Photo: Alton (Wikimedia Commons)

7. Don't Kiss Your Significant Other During the Show

Sorry couples. I know, it was super sweet of him to get you those Billy Elliot tickets and you are eternally grateful. But just look at the seating plan for any theatre and you'll notice that unless you are in the very last row, other people's views are dependent on you staying properly in your seat and not taking up the space between them. Save it for later.

8. Don't Cough

Okay, this one sounds fascist. But seriously. This is actually a particular pet peeve of mine. But they can't help it!, my more sympathetic friends say. Okay. If you have been feeling under the weather, at least come prepared with (previously unwrapped) cough drops and plenty of water. If you absolutely must cough, try to stifle it or save it for a loud moment of applause. But here's my biggest issue. To be honest, I just don't believe that that many people in every audience are sick. I think that theater-coughing is more of a reactionary trend, following a thought process along the lines of, Oh, I just heard someone cough. I actually have a bit of a tickle in my throat, too, and may as well take care of it now that it's on my mind. This starts a chain of unending intentional coughs echoing through the theater, which is not exactly what I want to hear during a dramatic pause or tender moment of silence. A single cough can often be heard throughout the whole audience, so if at all possible, let the actors remain the stars of the show. Sneezing, on the other hand, is totally excusable.

9. Don't Leave Before the Show Has Completely Finished

Unless the lights are on and the stage is empty, you better not be out of your seat unless it's for a standing ovation. People leaving during bows is one of the most ridiculous behaviours that, for some unknown reason, some audacious audience members seem to think is acceptable. The curtain call is typically the one time during a performance where actors truly look at the audience, and the audience, in return, has the opportunity to show appreciation for a job well done. Either that, or they can show their complete disregard for the actors' hard work by standing up and taking an early leave in order to avoid the post-show rush. The actors can see you! It's actually so rude, and I truly hope that none of you have ever committed this heinous act and that you will stand in solidarity with me in spreading the word in the future.

10. Don't Leave Your Rubbish Behind When You Leave

So you've made it through the entire show with a clean etiquette record. Don't tarnish it with being inconsiderate enough to blatantly leave your wrappers, ice cream containers, and general litter under your seat. Theatre ushers are already under-appreciated and underpaid (when they're paid at all) and shouldn't have to be responsible for picking up your germ-infested garbage-- after all, there's a decent chance someone has recently been coughing in the immediate area.

Leave it the way you found it. Photo: Beatrice Murch (Wikimedia Commons)

And there you have it: ten things to never do in the theatre. Easy to follow, right? Please, take these tips to heart and shout them from the rooftops...unless, of course, you are currently in a theater, in which case please refrain from making noise and put your phone away immediately.
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Why? Because proper etiquette is cool
When: During any performance
Where: At the theatre
Cost: Good manners are free
Your Comment
Can I add, don't yell at the usher about getting booster seats like a crazy lady. Stand in line patiently with the rest of us. Seriously ugly parents at Saturday's matinee. Shame, shame....
by Lydia C. Lee (score: 2|656) 2816 days ago
This was hilarious, and prompted me to think of all my pet peeves, immediately.
Incisive and funny.
Your no nos for the theare - rock!
by curiouser&curiouser (score: 2|526) 2813 days ago
I enjoyed reading your list of no-nos and completely agree with all of them. Nicely done :)
by Melbournefreelancer (score: 2|335) 2813 days ago
I completely agree with all these points - one too add though: DON'T HUM ALONG IF ITS MUSICAL THEATRE! If you do and I'm the person near you, you may get slapped. Hard.
by Bonnie (score: 0|2) 2815 days ago
Thanks for this, I just hope the offenders read it! A reminder to myself to mind my manners completely, and also nice to hear someone elses's frustrations re these things - nicely put.
I go to see the met opera movie recordings at my local cinema, and wish people would apply live theatre standards to their behaviour instead of movie standards! I have been groped,sat on, banged and had my hair pulled by latecomers, who then grumble about how they can't see! I've listened to inane commentary, endless slow sweet unwrapping and drink bottle lids. People seem to think the overture and quiet arias are the time for settling in and chatting. one time when there was a boudoir scene of women scantily clad, the audience continually coughed very loudly through the whole song! I think they were uncomfortable with the bare body look and were doing it unconsciously.
I deal with it now by just accepting the fact that it is a movie after all, and a movie audience are coming to see it - assuming the same thing does not happen live!
by stron (score: 0|2) 2815 days ago
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