Etiquette at the Theatre

On our Facebook page not long ago, someone brought up the subject of theatre etiquette. He’d come across a blog post on movie etiquette and wondered if there was an equivalent for the theatre. Well, Keith McKee, here is it is – just for you!

Why don’t we allow photography in the auditorium? Well, there are several reasons for this restriction – and given the ease with which today’s social media allow images to be shared, we have to be even more diligent about it. To begin with, a set design – and even the design of a bare stage – is copyrighted material, so an unauthorized photograph of it is a violation, however unintentional, of copyright laws. Second, the sound and (even more importantly) the flash of a camera are annoying distractions for other patrons, and can be dangerous ones for the actors on stage. So please remember: no photography, still or otherwise.

I’m sure everyone’s had the experience of sitting in a theatre during a moment of intense emotional drama, only to have the breathless silence shattered by the crinkling of cellophane: a truly excruciating sound that always seems to go on for at least five minutes. Trying to unwrap your candy slowly and stealthily only makes it worse – trust us. That’s why, when you come to Stratford, you usually hear a pre-show announcement by Artistic Director Des McAnuff advising you that “If you have a hard candy or soothing lozenge, now would be an ideal time to unwrap it.” So please, for the sake of everyone around you, unwrap that treat before the show starts or during intermission.

Could anything be more annoying than a candy being unwrapped? Yes! Talking and cell phones – feel free to choose which offends you more. It’s bad enough leaving your phone on in the first place, but some people’s thoughtlessness doesn’t end there. I was at a production in a Toronto theatre recently when a woman behind me had her cell phone ring. But instead of turning her phone off at this point, she just rejected the call. So what happens next? The phone rings again, and again, and again – ten calls in total. Why not turn the phone off after the first one?

The theatre isn’t the best time or place to have a conversation with your friend. I can understand that sometimes you might have a question about what is happening on the stage, but please keep that question for the intermission – even if that means you need to bring a notepad along with you to the show. Discussions distract those sitting around you and the actors on stage – yes, those are real people, with ears that hear, acting on that stage. You can hear what they are saying; it just might be possible that they can hear you too!

Finally, please take a look at your ticket before you come to the theatre. There’s a lot of information on it:

  1. The show you are going to see.
  2. The date of the performance and the time it will start.
  3. Obviously, your seat number.
  4. A list of policies on the back.

If you take the trouble to look at your ticket beforehand, you’ll know what time the show starts. And yes, it does start at that time; they don’t wait for everyone to show up. It’s also important to look at the date so you don’t miss the performance or come a day or two early. Just as clearly as they can hear you, the actors can see late arrivers coming into the auditorium. So be sure to build enough time into your schedule so you can get to your seat prior to the start of the performance.

This may sound silly, but always check the production title on your ticket. People do come to the theatre not realizing they have a ticket for the wrong show. Imagine coming to the Avon Theatre to see Jesus Christ Superstar only to find out that the performance that night is The Homecoming. The information is all there to help you out.

Finally, let me touch on the question of scent. Among the many people who come to enjoy a show at Stratford, there are bound to be some who are sensitive to other people’s perfumes or aftershaves, and who may even have a strong allergic reaction. We try to offer a scent-free environment in our theatres, so please, to make the experience pleasant for everyone, come to the show without adding a scent.

If we all keep in mind that a show at Stratford is being performed live, by real people, with other real people in the seats around us, then we can all enjoy the experience to its utmost. I’ll leave you with these creative YouTubers who have created videos on the subject:

Know Your Theatre Etiquette

Getting Ready for Our Trip to Stratford (A school group gets the 411 on theatre etiquette).

Let us know if there’s anything else you would add.


12 thoughts on “Etiquette at the Theatre

  1. I would add to the cell phone comments – to not text, or look at your phone, too. I have seen this more than a few times lately. Someone is looking or texting during a performance and the light from the phone can be seen 10-12 seats away and a few rows back. This is very distracting. Just my 2 cents’ worth.

  2. It is also lovely when those around you are respectful of the small legspace alloted to each theatregoer… for instance, while bopping your leg about may be a nice way to pass time, when the leg is lodged against the back of the seat of the person sitting in front of you, this becomes quite distracting to the performance. Not to be rude, but just again, my opinion 🙂

  3. All great things – too bad most people don’t bother listening because they are too busy talking and still unwrap that candy during the show! 🙂

  4. I applaud those parents bringing teens to see Shakespeare before being forced to read it in highschool ruins it, I myself was stuck on Shakespeare at age eight and haven’t looked back. During the performance however they are STILL your kids, your responsibility EVEN if they get bored. I was at the Studio Theatre a row behind/above a teenage boy and family. The teenage boy got bored and attempted to lean back several times during the show and look up my skirt! Parents this suppose to be a theatrical education not one of anatomy!

  5. Two words: WATCH ALARMS. I have been attending shows at Stratford for twenty years now and it is very rare to get through a performance without a watch alarm going off. One year one went off right in the middle of Hamlet (Ben Carlson)’s “To be or not to be” speech and he stopped dead and waited for it to end. It’s ridiculous that actors and fellow audience members should have to put up with that.

  6. I would also urge the teachers and parents to be aware of their students. My first trip to Stratford was through a college program and I feel it is great to have students of all ages attending shows. I also think that the teachers/parents should have to sit with the students not 10 rows behind so there is some way of controlling them. I had to keep telling the students to be quiet during a performance last year and couldn’t locate a teacher until intermission to talk to them.

  7. Please do not bring children to shows before they are able to sit quietly through them. I attended a performance of Romeo and Juliet at Stratford and the family behind us had a 3/4 yr old girl with them. She was constantly playing with a string of beads which was very distracting. Finally my friend turned around and told her parents to make her stop. RIDICULOUS!! My daughter is 11 and she has not been to a shakespeare play yet. She has seen Mamma Mia. I think she is finally old enough and mature enough to attend Stratford this season.

    • Parents! Teach your children to be good audience members! And of course, be one yourself. I attended the first performance of Camelot. The family behind me switched seats, talked, passed candy back & forth, kicked and rustled something throughout the performance. The adults were as bad as the children. The young boy at one point during a quiet scene asked aloud “is this movie over?”. I prayed at intermission they would leave but alas! they did not. They exited during the curtain call and left a floor littered with cereal. The children were not at all interested in the production. Why pay theatre prices for that?

  8. I would add do not sing along aloud or recite lines to yourself aloud. It’s okay to mouth them silently but there is nothing more annoying than when the girl beside you is singing along and distracting you from hearing the beautiful singing onstage

  9. Just wondering what folks think about booing at the end of a performance to show appreciation for a villain — saw this occur most recently in Camelot. The hated villain was so well delivered by the actor that he was booed. I was not particularly pleased and applauded instead. Any thoughts?

  10. All great suggestions from everyone. I just wonder how would you go about implementing them? It’s easy to ask these things of people but many are difficult to enforce.

  11. Implementation, Hmm…might I suggest a penalty box? A roped off section at the back of hall that offenders are “invited” to move to when behavior warrants? Wiring seats to deliver small electrical jolts to bad audience members? Roving ushers with cattle prods?

    Just kidding, of course. But, I think the reason that these things are so frustrating is that most people realize that there is no way to enforce good behavior in the theatre.

    Every theatre struggles with this, years ago I went to an opera performance of Hansel and Gretel. Dispite every ad, ticket and piece of liturature saying the prodcution would be sung in German with English supertitles, the audience was filled with childern too young to read or not old enough to understand the use to of the supertitles. The first act was full of mother’s whispering the supertitles to confused children. Just be glad your productions are in English!

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