Ah, theater. A wonderful, beautiful showcase of talent, creativity, and escapism. Whether you’re attending a local community show or seeing a production on good ol’ Broadway, there are certain rules you as an audience member is expected to follow.
These rules exist for several reasons. One, to ensure that the show runs smoothly without any disruptions from the audience. Two, to give everyone in the audience a great, uninterrupted experience. And three, to show respect to the actors, production crew, tech crew, and everyone else who put time, effort, energy and money into creating the show you’ve all come out to see.
Some rules may seem like they’re simply common sense things everyone should know…but you’d be surprised.
(And yes, this article was 100% inspired by personal experiences, especially after doing a show this summer.)
So for your learning pleasure (or relating pleasure, if you’re a fellow theater person)…
Here are the biggest theater etiquette rules EVERYONE (and I do mean everyone) should follow when seeing a show:
1. Be quiet throughout the show
This is so obvious, yet many people still struggle with this one. If you start speaking or making lots of loud noises during the show, you’re being a major distraction and quite rude. If you need to say something, whisper—those low murmurs are still audible.
2. BE ON TIME
You’re clearly coming to the show because you care in some way about the production: you like the show, you know people in the production, etc. In a time where it’s very, very hard to miss when something starts thanks to Facebook reminders, calendar reminders, etc., there’s really no reason you should be late.
3. If you do come late, sit in the back
Unless there are absolutely no seats left back there, sit in the rear if you show up late. It’s rude and disruptive when you walk up to the front aisles and make people already immersed in the show be broken from the spell. You’re not just interrupting those in the row you’re entering, but everyone behind that row as well.
4. Don’t bring food or drinks into the theater unless it’s allowed.
Most theaters do not allow theatergoers to bring food and drink into the main theater. And if you do it anyways, or the theater does allow it, keep things clean and don’t leave your trash around.
5. Speaking of food, open anything BEFORE the show starts.
No one wants to hear you loudly open up a candy bar or crack open a can of soda.
6. Take your child out if they start to get loud
Live theater has the same common sense rule (or what should be common sense) as movie theaters: if your child starts to get loud during the movie and won’t listen to you when you try to shush them, take them out.
If your kid starts to even remotely resemble the following GIF, it’s time to step out of the theater with them until they’re calm. DO NOT be that person who just sits there while the kid you’re with is talking during the show or getting whiny. It’s disrespectful to the actors and disrupting the experience of everyone else in the theater who came to escape and enjoy a show, not listen to your loud child.
7. There IS such a thing as too young for theater
If your child still uses a pacifier and/or can’t sit still for longer than 10 minutes, DO NOT BRING THEM TO THE SHOW. I’ve performed in and attended shows where people brought their young kids who clearly weren’t interested or couldn’t stay quiet/still for prolonged periods of time. Such behavior ruined the viewing experience of everyone around them, especially since the parents didn’t bother to a) make them stop, and b) didn’t take their kids out of the theater until they could be quiet and behave.
This is especially relevant when it’s, say, a Disney show. Yes, it’s Disney and yes, it’s technically for kids, but that doesn’t mean your kid will automatically be entranced and actually be quiet or stay still. If they can’t do that on a regular basis, what on earth makes you think they’d be able to do it for 2 and a half hours in a theater where they have to be quiet and still? Everyone in the audience is also there to enjoy the show—don’t ruin their experience (which they also paid for, BTW) with your loud, annoying kids.
Letting your kids be noisy and move around during shows is also incredibly rude behavior to display towards the actors. They have worked their asses off to put on this show—your loud kid is a potential distraction and pulls the focus away from the talent and hard work onstage.
8. Do your research if you’re not familiar with the show
I had a theater professor who saw the original “Spring Awakening” on Broadway several times, and each time he saw families leave at intermission because they got a shock at the Act 1 finale that they hadn’t known about. Same for performances of “Heathers” or “Avenue Q.”
Long story short, if you’re going to see a show and you don’t check what it’s about—and more importantly, what the theater producing the show is putting up as content warnings—you have no one to blame for yourself when you end up bringing your young kids to a show that’s not kid-friendly.
9. This is a live show, not a sing-along
I know, the songs are catchy and wonderful and a big reason you’re here! But your fellow audience members paid to hear the actors sing. Singing along and quoting lines is irritating and disruptive, and if you’re in a smaller theater, it’s possible the actors will hear you as well.
Unless the actors are specifically asking you to say or sing something (which doesn’t happen often), please stay quiet. And if you bring a kid who’s singing along, remind them that they can sing as much as they want in the car, but in the theater, only the people onstage should be singing.
10. DO NOT take pictures or videos
We all know that flash photography is a MAJOR no-no, for the obvious reason that it can be a big distraction for the actors. However, even if you’re just taking a simple pic of video on your phone, that’s still not allowed. The people behind you don’t want to watch the show through your phone. There’s also the part where it’s illegal for you to do that. Licensing rights only allow for a certain amount of professional photographers who can take production pictures or film the production.
11. Touch nothing and no one
If you’re in a smaller or more immersive theater, touch nothing. Not a prop, not a set piece, not a person. Just because the setting is more up close and personal does not mean you can touch. If you have a child with you, please be extra sure that their hands aren’t roaming!
12. Pick up your program when you leave
Once you take that pamphlet, it’s your responsibility. Even if you’re just going to throw it out once you leave the theater, do it yourself rather than leave the program lying on the theater floor.
13. TURN. OFF. THE. PHONES.
That announcement you heard about phones disrupting mics? Yeah, it can actually happen. And if you’re not going to turn it all the way off, make sure it’s at least on silent so there are no ringtones going off mid-show. You will be universally hated by everyone around you, onstage and off, if you don’t silence your phone and it goes off during the show.
14. Once the show starts, put the phone away
You’re in the theater to see a live show, not be on your phone. Once the show starts, keep that phone tucked away. You can wait until intermission and the end of the show to check Snapchat.
These are just a few of the biggest rules regarding theater etiquette. Follow these rules, be sure to cheer and clap loudly after the numbers, and your onstage entertainment will love you for being a good audience!
And ultimately, HAVE FUN. Enjoy the show!