Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Enjoy Live Theater (Politely)

I love live theater. You know, the thing that's like movies but isn't on a screen. (Amazing 3D effects without special glasses!) I've been participating in theater since I was a little girl studying at the San Francisco Children's Opera. Since then I've moved from actor to choreographer to director to playwright, also finding time to serve as an enthusiastic audience member.

In case you don't know, there is a lot more theater than Shakespeare and musicals. If you aren't a regular goer, I encourage you to check your local theater listings and see something new this year. Perhaps you should put it on your uberlist.

Some assume theater is a bit snooty, but I assure you that much of it is really laid back. (If you are looking for a more casual atmosphere try theaters described as "black box" or "storefront.") Of course, there still is etiquette for theater. Live theater etiquette is pretty much the same as movie theater etiquette. The difference is that the impact of rudeness at live theater is greater because you are potentially disturbing the performers as well as the audience. So in honor of a production of one of my plays opening this weekend* here are some guidelines for proper theater etiquette:

  • No talking. Seriously. Did you learn nothing from that Thompson Twins song/video from the 80s? Voices carry. Even a whisper. And, yes, in small theaters the actors can hear you too.
  • Silence your cell phone. And realize that "vibrate" is not silent. Unless you're a doctor on call, turn your phone all the way off.
  • No texting/tweeting/websurfing. Although these may be silent activities the little glowing screen is a distraction to other audience members as well as those on stage.
  • No photography/filming/recording. Definitely no flash photography, but no recording at all is better. Not only do you potentially create the distraction of the glowing screen like with texting, but unauthorized recording violates the contract rights of the actors, director, designers, and playwright.
  • Don't be late. Unlike the movies, live theater doesn't start with a bunch of trailers. There may be a few quick announcements, but then the play is going to start with or without you. Arrive at the theater with plenty of time. When you see the lights blink take your seat promptly to avoid missing the opening scene and causing a disturbance. Same goes after intermission.
  • No, really. Don't be late. Most theaters have "late seating policies" that may vary by show. Depending on the play and how it is staged you may not be seated immediately once the show begins. Sometimes the ushers have designated times at which to seat late comers. In some cases you may not be seated until intermission. If there is no intermission you may not be able to see the show at all. You might be able to watch on a monitor in the lobby or from standing room in the back of the theater, but it is much better to not be late. Come early, and read the program. You may be surprised to find that someone in the cast was an extra on Law & Order!
If you are invited to a play by someone involved with the show a few additional rules apply:
  • Only accept comps you intend to use. Complimentary tickets, or comps, are sometimes given to people involved in a show as a part of their compensation. (In community theater comps may be the only compensation.) These tickets are free, but each person is given a limited supply. If someone offers you a comp that is a ticket they can't give to someone else. Decline the offer if you won't go to the show.
  • Don't run off. Friends and family members will often know you are there, particularly at a small theater. It is polite to say hello before you leave. If you need to go relieve a babysitter or catch a bus/train, be sure to call or email the next day to apologize.
  • But don't barge into the dressing room. Sure, actors are known for being immodest, but being comfortable dressing in front of other company members or even undressing as a part of a show is different than wanting to dress while strangers are lingering and making small talk. Ask someone from the theater where the actors come out, and wait there unless requested to do otherwise.
  • Say "Good show." If you were given a comp say thank you for the ticket. After that, if you don't know what to say go with "Good show." This is the theater equivalent of saying "I'm fine" when someone asks how you are. It's a harmless white lie if you didn't enjoy the play but also a simple comment when you liked a show. Too much gushing in the lobby can make people uncomfortable and delay your friend from talking to other people (or getting to the bar). You can provide a more detailed review later.

Enjoy the show(s)!

*My Christmas play "The Pants and The Virgin" is a part of Acme Theater's New Works Winter Festival in Maynard, Mass.


jalooz said...

Don't forget to quiet those noisy candy wrappers, as well. That crackle is almost as annoying as talking and cell phones going off.

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Etiquette Bitch said...

Amen! I like the "good show" comment. I had a theater teacher in SF who used to describe having to see friends' shows: "Wow, you were just all over the map!" I like "good show" better.

Do you mean the Aimee Mann video? "Voices Carry"?

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