Audience Etiquette; How to attend a Show

Going to the theater isn’t the same as going to a sports event or watching the television at home. Therefore the expectations on the audience members is also different.

Here are a few guidelines on how to behave, not annoy the dancers, crew, and everyone around you:

fisher price phone 1

1. How to Dress- preparation begins far before you arrive at the theater. A lot of people will tell you that it’s important to dress up. This was a constant argument between my parents; my mom would be elegant as always and my Dad would want to go to the hot new play with holes in his socks beneath his dirty tennis shoes.

It is often considered a sign of respect to dress nicely to attend a performance.

You Could Always Go For One Of These Theater-Going Outfits

But guess what? It’s dark in the theater and trust me, dancers don’t really care what you wear if you’re actually coming to our shows.

Here’s what to wear:

Deodorant. Maybe some pants. Heavy perfume and face-paint not advised. This is not the time for big Texas Pageant Queen hair or top hats. I’d advise you to make your head as small as possible. People sitting behind you will appreciate your shrunken skull size as it allows for easier viewing.

2. Preparation on being a good audience member also begins when you leave your house! Leave on time. You’ve probably known for a while, when you heard about a show, when you bought a ticket, when your friends dragged you, what time the show starts. Be on time. You can’t TiVo live performance.

If you are late anyways, you should stand in the back until an intermission or moment when the curtain is down to find your seat. Or bring an invisibility cloak for the moment when you awkwardly stomp over everyone’s feet and get in their general line of sight.

3. How to sit– seats are usually arranged (in a good theatre) with seating staggered so that chairs aren’t directly behind each other. Therefore try to sit in the middle of the seat and don’t lean. This is easier if you don’t fall asleep. Also, avoid swaying. This isn’t a Simon and Garfunkle concert.

Bad example of posture and attentiveness

Bad example of posture and attentiveness

4. Turn OFF your phone- do not text. Do not call. Do not play with apps. Do not turn it on once the lights are down.  You are bothering everyone in the theatre, especially those behind you who will see the shining light when you open it.

Practical suggestions:

place phone in purse and tape opening of purse closed.

Replace real phone with Fisher Price phone for the evening.

Mail phone to your address from the theater in a ‘do not open until christmas box’ then enjoy getting your phone back as a holiday treat.

Bring this if you can't stop playing with your real phone

Bring this if you can’t stop playing with your real phone

5. Commentary- much as I wish there was live commentary for performances as there is for sports programs, we are still in that ‘art is subjective and everyone should make a value judgement for themselves’ way of thinking. You don’t need to comment during the show.

I was at a performance last weekend and while one dancer  was performing a rather animalistic movement, the lady sitting next to me loudly declared ‘oh he looks just like my dog Wagger!’ Avoid outbursts of recognition. Also avoid naming your dog, ‘wagger’ because…really? Wagger?

6. No cameras during the show. But if you want to take pictures with us afterwards at a reception, we’ll probably feel pretty special.

8. No unwrapping candy or snacks. We’re hungry too and you’ll just make us jealous. Trust me, I can hear a worther’s original being unwrapped a kilometer away and I will come confiscate it.

I don't know what Tim is doing, eating in costume (nutcracker 2006, Butler university)

I don’t know what Tim is doing, eating in costume (nutcracker 2006, Butler university)

9.If you are sick- load up on enough meds that you won’t cough much, sneeze much, make disturbing sickly noises during the show. But not too much that you’ll doze off, resulting in an off-center head placement …(see rule 3) Sars mask optional.

10. How to respond- Once the piece is finished, you are supposed to clap. Yes, even if you didn’t like it, pretend to lightly put your hands together.

Dance Isn’t Supposed to be Perfect Anyways!

Elmo says so

Elmo says so

When I was younger, I was trained not to ever yell, to ‘whoo-hooo!’ at a show, especially the ballet. Apparently, it isn’t classy. I was encouraged, if especially moved, to yell bravo.

Here’s what I think:

yell bravo. yell brava. yell encore. yell yippie-ki-yay or burst into song or throw roses at us. We want to know through any form of vocal appreciation if we’ve done our jobs well, if you’re moved or entertained. The curtain call is your time to give us feedback.

Elvis fans going wild over his dance moves

Elvis fans going wild over his dance moves

11. Exiting the theater- Do not leave before the curtain call. Please please give us our due applause. We know it’s late, and the parking lot will be a crowded hassle. We know you’re just trying to ‘avoid the rush’. But if everyone did that then we’d have no one giving us the applause we hope so greatly to hear. We’ve all probably just worked really hard for your entertainment. Please say thank you by staying through our curtain call.

5 Reasons to Stay For Curtain Call

And that’s it! It’s surprisingly easy to be a good audience member. Keep in mind the golden rule:  Sit quietly, clap loudly, and if you’re coming to one of my shows… please bring flowers.

Did I miss anything? I love stories of audience trials and tribulations. Feel free to share in comments. xo- Jess

10 thoughts on “Audience Etiquette; How to attend a Show

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    • Hi Pam- You can always clap at the end of the performance, when the dancers are taking bows. Audiences will often applaud when the music pauses, such as after a variation in a full-length piece or at the end of each piece is the performance is variety-structured. Sometimes a particularly enthusiastic audience will even applaud in the middle of the dancing, if it is particularly impressive!

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  6. I’m glad you mentioned that we shouldn’t call or text during the performance because using our phone bothers everyone in the theater. I really enjoy the holidays and am thinking about taking my family to a cirque show, but we don’t go to many live events and I’m not sure about the etiquette for them. Your article was helpful to me because keeping your tips in mind will help us enjoy the show without bothering anyone around us!

    • Hi Daphne. It’s great to hear that you’re thinking of taking your family to a live show! The Cirque performances are incredible! Definitely keep the phone stashed away, though sometimes it’s ok to take pictures at bows. You see that a lot here in New York at all of the top ballet companies. If you have any of other questions, feel free to reach out! -jess

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