I have a bone to pick with my fellow theatre fans. At a recent performance of Gaslight at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto, I was driven as insane as the on-stage Mrs. Manningham by the people around me. I’ve had many theatre experiences (almost) spoiled for me by the general lack of conduct by other audience members, but this time really took the cake, despite the sincere efforts of the theatre to keep the atmosphere appropriately serene. This experience inspired me to create the following list of bad behaviours which may seem obvious to most of you, but apparently need to be said to the bad apple wearing a hat. So here is my PSA to being an awesome audience member and not getting my shoe thrown at you.
“What possible thought could the audience think other than “this is horribly wrong”?
When you take your seat in a theatre, all of the manners that we’ve been taught since kindergarten apply. Sit quietly, listen, don’t kick the person in front of you, and again, take your hat off indoors. You are in a room full of people who have paid good money to enjoy likely-one-time performance and will be forced to endure whatever behaviour their neighbours exhibit. Nothing can quite downscale a night at the theatre like someone’s feet on the back of your headrest.
“Call back in the morning!”
–Little Shop of Horrors
We live in a society that has become largely dependant on mobile phones, and for some people, turning them off for a couple of hours seems to trigger serious separation anxiety. While I’m not immune to the addiction myself (my Instagram is never without a stage photo taken before the show begins) I’m more excited to see the performance and know that I can survive without it. When the lights go down, your lit up screens and ringtones are distracting to the rest of the audience and incredibly disrespectful to the actors on stage, so it’s time to unplug and just live in the moment. Please save the selfies for the intermission (the lighting will be much better then anyway) and if you dare to answer a call during the show, I might just throw your phone against the wall.
“You always talk, talk, talk all the time!”
–School of Rock: The Musical
Did you really come to the theatre just to talk? I don’t know what it is, but no matter where I sit, I always find myself surrounded by chatterboxes. I’m continuously baffled by the people who will spend the time, money, and effort on coming to a play, but don’t seem to pay attention to it at all. These are grown men and women who you’d think would know better, yet have decided that the theatre is the perfect place to discuss what they got Clifford for his birthday. I absolutely do not need your muffled commentary on the show or guessing who the killer is either, so please save it for the intermission or car ride home. Unless we’re at The Rocky Horror Show, you’re being a bad audience member. I came to hear the actors and music, not you… don’t make me “shush” you again.
“So you can’t see me, no, not at all!”
–The Rocky Horror Show
When the space for a steep inclination is unavailable, most theatres have their seats positioned in a way that allows one audience member to see the stage through the space in between the two people in front of him or her… when they sit properly, that is. But all hope is lost for that person in Row H when those lovebirds in Row G decide to cuddle up like they’re in an eHarmony commercial, forming one giant amorphous back-of-head blob monster that cost $85.00 to stare at. Fidgety actions like stretching your arms out and over your head, bouncing around, and constantly leaning your head from side to side are also not appreciated. Unless you’re in the back row, there’s always someone behind you to consider. You are in public at a theatre, not at home on your sofa… So sit up, stay still, and if you must prove your love, restrict the PDA to polite handholding.
“Why have you disturbed our sleep? Awakened us from our ancient slumber?”
–Evil Dead the Musical
My most recent seat neighbour was snoring during the show. Snoring. And it wasn’t a boring play! For many, a Saturday night can understandably be an accumulation of exhaustion after a long work week and the cushy chairs of a dark theatre can be tempting to doze off in, but it’s really not the place. Though I’ve been guilty of falling asleep in class or on the bus after pulling an all-nighter, I would never let it happen in a theatre. If you know that you’re short on sleep, try to squeeze in a power nap beforehand, or grab a coffee in the lobby. Perk up or I’ll come over there, ma’am.
Though these grievances may seem to come from an angry dark place inside this 5’3 theatre-goer, I say them in the best interests of all fans. The rules to being a great audience member are more simple than they are strict, and ensure that everyone will have as good of a time as you will. The most important thing to keep in mind at every live show is to be considerate of how your behaviour may be affecting others… it keeps the characters on the stage and out of the audience.
Photo courtesy of Verne Ho via StockSnap.io
Nicole is the editor of Arts & Culture for the Summer 2016 issue of On the Danforth. When she’s not sitting quietly in a theatre or screaming her heart out at The Rocky Horror Picture Show, she might be stalking Johnny Depp. You can follow her at a safe distance on Twitter and Instagram.