The Play's the Thing: How to Avoid the Spotlight July 22 2016
To munch of not to munch, that is the question. It seems that as a theatre audience we are becoming increasingly badly behaved. Sometimes plays have even been stopped by actors to remonstrate with someone who has got out their mobile phone in the middle of a poignant speech.
Whilst encouraging new theatre-goers, with cut-price tickets, the venues are assuming that if you’ve never been before, you know as if by osmosis how to behave. Unlike the cinema, as a live production, theatre is much less forgiving if you annoy your other theatre-goers - worse still the actors on stage. People can pay hundreds of pounds for tickets and do not take kindly to anybody who spoils the performance. So here are some hints so that we all make sure we can play our part:
- Arrive in plenty of time: theatres will often not let you in if you arrive late. A bell signals audience members to take their seats if they have not done so already both at the beginning of the performance and at the interval. This is usually ten minutes before the play starts (of five minutes at the interval). If you have tickets to collect, the box office often specify a time by which you have to have picked them up; otherwise arrive approximately twenty minutes prior to the start so that you can find your seat, buy a programme and order drinks if necessary.
- Make sure you have used the loo before the play starts: audience members will be very unhappy if you spoil their concentration and worse still have to get up to let you out or have their view blocked by a bobbing row. If you are a woman, try to use a loo before you get to the theatre as there are notoriously poor facilities in many older theatres which lead to very long queues. The performance will not be delayed and you will not be allowed (back) in until the interval.
- Eat before or after the performance - not during: the smell and noise that food makes will ostracise you from your fellow audience members very rapidly. Even a box of chocolates can cause huge irritation to others and save the popcorn for the cinema. Even chewing gum can make a surprising amount of noise in the hush of a performance. Ice cream is usually for sale during the interval if you really need some sustenance or investigate local restaurants who are likely to have a pre-theatre dining offer.
- Drink in moderation: remember you cannot leave the performance midway to nip to the loo. Drinks in plastic glasses are sometimes sold at the bar for taking into the theatre. Pre-order drinks for the interval so that you can drink them then, rather than stand in a huge queue. Ushers are usually fine if you want to take in a bottle of still water (not fizzy as this will make a noise as you open it).
- No mobile phones or photography: switch your phone off or you could stop the whole performance if it rings or vibrates. Worst case scenario is that the actor loses his/her thread or you ruin the scene. If a call is that important, don’t go to the theatre. Do not think that you can take your phone out for a sneaky look at a text message, a bit of internet shopping or search on Wikipedia for a plot summary - the light on your phone, no matter how much you dim it, will act as a spotlight on you for everyone to see your bad behaviour. Photography is usually banned in theatres even pre-performance. Needless to say holding your phone in the air to film the performance is a complete no-no. This is not a rock concert. If you want a souvenir of the performance, buy the programme instead.
- Do not lean forward in your seat or put your feet on the chairs or railings: this is not your front room. If you lean forward, you will block the view of the person behind. If you bought a seat with a restricted view, live with it. Try to avoid moving about too much in your seat as the person behind will probably have positioned themselves to see the stage through a gap between you and the person beside you.
- No chatting, whispering or singing - even if you know the script: now is not the time to show-off. The only voices you should hear are the actors, unless audience participation is requested. Save any questions or observations you may have for the interval.
- Avoid coughing. Do not go to the theatre if you have a bad cough. Not only will your cough interrupt the performance but it becomes infectious leading other people needing to do likewise.
- Dress respectfully. It is a night out and often quite formal so why not wear something special. Beachwear, hats and lots of noisy bangles are best avoided.
- Listen, watch and clap only at the appropriate moments to show your appreciation. Stay until the cast make their final bows. They have worked hard for your benefit so allow enough time for your last train to give them their final applause.
And… remember, to order your personalised sign in time so that you can politely let everyone know you’re enjoying a memorable and well-mannered night at the theatre.
If you want to create your own theatre rules, just let us know what they are, order your favourite design and we will make it for you.