Audience Etiquette 101: The Do's And Don’ts of Watching a Theater Performance

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Audience Etiquette 101: The Do's And Don’ts of Watching a Theater Performance


Whether you're an avid fan of Broadway shows or one that’s contented to watch a local play downtown, you might find yourself in the same situation: somebody is distracting you from the performance on stage. Be it a conversation between two people in hushed tones or an individual who keeps taking pictures of the performance, or worse, singing along to the actors, nothing is more annoying than not being able to enjoy the show in peace.

The truth is most members of today's audience are clueless as to how they should behave inside the theater, especially for traditional live performances. Even though most theater and live performance etiquette rules are common sense, that doesn't mean that people won't have questions, especially for first-time goers. 

Being a newbie spectator in the theater does not excuse you from learning and practicing the proper etiquette. Here are the most important Do’s and Don’ts to keep in mind.




A school theater play / Photo by: Noralanning via Wikimedia Commons


1. Do your research before attending the show

In order to avoid situations where you feel the need to ask a lot of questions, you should conduct research beforehand. If you are curious about the kind of performance you will be seeing or the venue, you need to find a review about it. Providing information on the cast, the synopsis, and the length of the entire performance, the show’s official website is created just for that purpose and can be accessed easily.


A no smoking and vaping signage / Photo by: Mike Mozart via Wikimedia Commons


2. Respect the rules

Every theater, notwithstanding their size and architecture, usually follow similar rules when it comes to proper audience etiquette. These are usually posted around the theater and are set to make sure both the performers and the spectators will not be disturbed in the course of the show. Disregarding them can result in your removal from the theater, which is something the theater staff is allowed to do if you are being extremely disruptive. 

It's also a general rule to arrive at least 15 to 20 minutes before the show starts. If you arrive early, then use this time to find your seat, use the restroom, and read through your brochure or Playbill. Remember, there are no do-overs in live performances so don't be late or else, you will be forced to wait until the current act is finished.


Candy lozenges / Photo by: Artinun Prekmoung via 123RF


3. Unwrap candies and/or cough drops in advance

Should you feel like you might have a coughing fit during the show, do yourself a favor and unwrap cough lozenges and drops in advance. The act may seem like it's nothing on a regular day, but in a live performance, it can be quite distracting to other viewers, or worse, the actors. 

And no, unwrapping them slowly won't make any difference.  


A theater actor / Photo by: Andrey Maslovskiy via 123RF


4. Respect the actors

It is an actor's job to pour themselves out in front of their audience. Performing dance numbers and songs while under the hot stage lights and wearing some of the heaviest and most uncomfortable costumes can definitely take a toll on them. If an actor refuses to come out for an autograph session after the show, try not to take it too harshly or avoid acting rude to the other actors since all of them just want to get some rest. 


Theater audience applauding a play / Photo by: Northern Ireland Office via Flickr


5. Applaud at the right time

Clapping also has its own rules since it's absolutely forbidden to clap in the middle of a song or if a scene is still not done. In other words, until the current scene or song ends, it's absolutely forbidden to clap. 

It's also common courtesy to always clap for the actors even if you didn't enjoy their performance or the entire show. 




Talking to the phone while watching a play / Photo by: lightfieldstudios via 123RF


1. Don't use your phone during the show

In any theatrical performance, the rules always require their visitors and audiences to turn off their phones before the show starts. Putting them on vibrate isn't good enough since theaters usually have seats that are close to one another so the person next to you will most likely fee that annoying buzzing that your phone makes. 

However, if you do need to reply to a message, performances tend to have 15-minute breaks in-between so you can use that time to conjure up a sufficient reply that would let you enjoy the rest of the show in peace.


A woman distracting other members of the audience / Photo by: Vasily Gronskiy via 123RF


2. Don't be a disruptive "Miss Manners"

Yes, it's very annoying to get distracted from the show, but nothing's worse when it's followed by a series of negative reactions from other audience members. Although you are allowed to express your feelings, exaggerated "tsks," "hmphs," and shouts of "turn it off!" are not only distracting to other viewers, but to the actors as well.


A silent and focused audience / Photo by: Mohammad Jangda via Flickr


3. Don't talk during the show

You may think that you're being discreet, but talking during performances actually make it difficult for someone to focus on the show. Although it's allowed to react, always keep them short and brief. Should you ever need to converse with someone, wait until the show is over or when it's time for intermissions or breaks, as even conversations in hushed tones are still distracting.


A singing theater actress / Photo by: Pxhere


4. Don't sing along with the actors

For ultimate fans of musicals, such as “Les Miserables,” it's quite tempting to sing along, especially if it's your favorite song from the performance. Don’t. Save your voice for the post-show karaoke. Of course, if the performers onstage encourage the audience to sing, then by all means, sing your heart out. “Do you hear the people sing?”




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