A couple of weeks ago, I was at a show in the West End. The overture began, the curtain started to rise and my nose began to twitch. Distracted from what was happening on stage, my eyes followed my nose and caught a glimpse of someone digging into a slice of pizza. With little regard for those around him he carried on chewing and by the time the first song was done, all I could think about was hitting up a Dominoes on the way home. It got me to thinking, 'What actually is the correct etiquette at the theatre?'
Mobile Phones (Cells for my friends across the Pond)
Why have your phone on if you are in the theatre? Despite constant reminders, people do tend to forget about turning it off or even placing it in silent mode. This could be for a variety of reasons, perhaps you were in a rush to your seat and forgot about it or were too busy taking in the spectacular surroundings and got caught up in the ambience. Sure, these are easily forgiven. But when Hamlet is in the thrust of his salient speech and the tinkle of a phone interrupts? That’s a break in concentration for both those on stage and off. It’s about common sense. I understand that if your wife is in the final stages of pregnancy and you have scored tickets to Hamilton that it is necessary to have your phone on in case the waters burst during Lin Manuel Miranda doing his thing, but do be sensible and put it on silent or the vibrate mode. And don't forget to ensure the screen is dimmed.
There are also (although far and few between) exceptions when having one's phone on is necessary. An example would be a hearing impaired person with an infrared system set up on their screen. Activate it during the show, dim the screen and away you go. Except that you need to ensure that your hearing aids are at the correct pitch and that only happens when the actors are speaking and the loop system works correctly. Ignore the sighs, huffs and puffs from your fellow audience members, make sure that you've spoken to the Front Of House so that if you are caught short adjusting your phone, at least the team know the situation and will be empathetic.
Talking during a show
This one can be construed as a cardinal sin. If you have paid big bucks (and let’s be honest, all shows are big bucks) you don’t want for Darius to come on to do a turn and for Brenda next-but-one to you, to recall the time she saw him in Pop Idol and how far he has come. Let us enjoy his dulcet tones, Brenda, not yours. Again, if someone is taken poorly during a show and needs to exit the row quickly, then, by all means, a gentle ‘excuse me’ is often enough. This leads me to...
Singing during a show
Yes, I get it. “Those Summer Nights” from Grease is an anthem. “Oh What A Night” is up there with the greats. But I want to hear professionals sing it. Well, unless I am at a sing-along version, then I will knock myself out. I don’t want to hear other voices drowning out whoever is in the role of Frankie Valli. During the reprise at the end of the show, when the audience is on its feet trying to hit the high notes is a given. Other than that, it's perhaps best to listen rather than participate.
This is a tricky one. Why shouldn’t you have a nice snack to enjoy alongside your G&T? In fact, some venues even serve food at your seat now, which is a welcome addition I feel. A nice ice cream which is part of theatre tradition is no problem at all. But just as you have settled into your seat after the interval, the first half having finished on a cliffhanger, and a tub of crisps gets opened. First, the foil wrapper gets ripped off, then crisps rustle as they are extracted from the pot and finally the crunch as they make contact with your teeth. It is difficult to know where to draw the line. Pizza is crossing the line, I feel. But it doesn’t make any noise so maybe it is a contradiction. Lots of theatres sell bagels and sandwiches, which would perhaps be more in line with the boundaries of etiquette and respect. Any hard boiled sweets and the suchlike should be unwrapped and placed in a bag before the show begins.
This is a fairly simple one. Respect the actors at Stage Door. Remember, as soon as they have come off stage they are no longer in character. They have just finished a mentally and physically demanding performance and want to get on the number 69 back to the sanctuary of their flat and settle down for a cup of tea. Most actors that I have come across have been very genial and cordial in meeting people at SD. They are appreciative that the audience has come to see them and are, more often than not, happy for a quick chat and photograph. Then there are actors who often leave by other means, such is the size of the crowd that they fear they may get trampled. Under no circumstances (unless you are personal friends with an actor) do you touch them. Hair getting stroked, tucking yourself under their arm for a selfie, commenting on their body shape - it is just not good form. Indeed, from the actor’s point of view, it is a fairly scary prospect of a complete stranger telling you how you have impacted their life, whilst they are impersonating someone else. It is good enough praise for an actor to hear that they changed your perspective and they are grateful enough for that.
And there you have it: the rules to Theatre Etiquette.
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