...eating and drinking in track pants and Crocs are perfectly acceptable at the movies, but...
by David King
It's too bad that a fear of formality will sometimes keep casual, new theatre-goers away from a venue that they consider the pretentious confines of "high art". And while that “frou-frou” is a myth in our contemporary theatre circles, theatre etiquette does exist in the context of our communal experience.
Most of the time, your decorum will revolve around the atmosphere of the venue, whether or not you are attending an opening premiere, or of course what your pre-show or post-show plans are for the evening ahead. Although there has never been a theatre I've needed to attend in a suit, it's awfully fun dressing up with either a thematic approach or a business casual outfit that blends with both the crusty blue rinse crowd and the Goth girl in row DD.
Your behaviour differs to cinema in only a few ways (eating and drinking in track pants and Crocs are perfectly acceptable at the movies, but wherever you are we can still hear you whispering, dammit). Simply put, using your common sense is the best means of earning your fellow spectators' respect – no matter where you are in public. We've all heard about the usual set of theatre rules (turning off cell phones and unwrapping candy wrappers, etc). They're so common that most theatres will spend time creating inventive tongue-in-cheek recordings to remind us that we're ignorant S.O.B.s with A.D.D. and no respect for the sacred stage before us. But guess what? Most of us are.
With this in mind, we've created five other "faux pas" to help prep you for a more relaxed, down-to-earth theatre night-out. Memorize them. Practice them. Share them with friends, and add your own live theatre etiquette below!
1. A device is a device. Turn it off.
If you sit in the balcony, you'll be amazed how many audience members below are awash in a sea of lights from cell phones. Texting away, while your performance goes in one ear and out the other, is almost as bad as answering the call. Going on vibrate as if we won't hear it? Well guess what, we can!
Cams, a huge offense to the cinema industry, can be even more offensive to live performers. As much as you want to capture that moment for your post-show tweet, keep in mind these aren't clowns buskering in the street; images of professional artists are under provisions as equally strict as they are in cinema.
2. Are you a pee pee person?
Then why on earth skip the washroom when you arrive and then plant yourself in the middle of the row? Weak bladder or not, a quick change in temperature inside the venue or a beverage before your play means planning a powder room moment before you enter those theatre doors. Even if you don't "have to go", you'll be surprised how much more grateful you'll be within thirty minutes than that person next to you squirming around like he's on a roller coaster ride.
Bodily functions go beyond the bladder. If you're a hacker with a smoker's cough, chances are the rest of us are going to miss our "to be or not to = COUGH!" moment. Snore? Then go see a matinee when you're more awake (my own nodding off startled an audience in a dark moment of a Holocaust play, simply because I woke myself up with a giant "cluck").
Theatre spaces can feel as dry as a desert, and common sense applies to the common cold just as much as it does on anything else. Feeling awful? Have a falafel. But please, don't go out. Skip the theatre and change your ticket to when you're feeling better.
Dryness includes the eyes. Ever had a moment when it seemed like the performer was staring out at you in the audience, like you were her only audience in that moment? Well it's happened to me, and my gaze was so transfixed that my left contact lens popped out. After spending the last half of the play crawling around the aisle looking for it, I decided there's nothing better than a vial of saline solution or eye dropps to accompany you to the theatre!
3. Don't step on my blue suede shoes…
The theatre is the perfect place to show off your favourite shoes, no matter how casual you want to be. Know your venue well enough to pre-plan what kind of shoes will look good and function best. Is there a pile of slush just outside the theatre with your name on it? How raked are the audience risers, and if they're steep, do you really want to wear party pumps with a 7-inch stilletto? Lastly, are the rows in the theatre so narrow that you'll end up stepping on someone's foot when you're doing your "excusez", "excusez" routine to get to your seat? You're not the only shoe exhibitionist in the room, you know.
On the "flip" side of nice shoes, go ahead and step on people's feet if they're wearing flip flop sandals; they deserve it for being so tacky.
4. Eau-de-STOP IT
An attractive scent does not mean you need to smell like a French whore (even at plays by Jean Genet). Let the audience connect to their shared experience without watery eyes, all because you decided that everyone should share a bath with you in your favourite 'odeur'. Because theatre is an aural, sensory experience, you'd be surprised how distracting an overbearing perfume is on the people in your vicinity. Free up the senses, and tone down the eau-de-whatever it is you're wearing.
5. I'm a critic, you're a critic, everyone's a critic, critic...
Ever been so moved or insulted by a play that you just had to talk it out in the lobby at intermission? You may not be aware, but it's quite likely that someone connected to the production is standing an earshot away. While your opinion may be right, it's unlikely you're going to do anything more than bruise the ego of someone intentionally waiting until the production finishes to read its reviews.
To make matters worse, if you're an artist or practitioner in the English-language theatre community (and it's a small one), you're likely taking your opportunities a notch down if you have to audition for the director that just overheard your "review". Be kind, rewind, and look around. Or better yet, save your critical savvy for a post-show moment away from the theatre.