Theatre Etiquette

For myself and countless others, going to the theatre is a regular occurrence. It’s our second home and our first love. It’s what our lives revolve around; the next show, the new cast, the favourite number. Going to the theatre is such a habit and we know what to expect when we go and, most importantly, we know the unwritten rules.

For some, the theatre is more of a special occasion; a big birthday, an anniversary or a city break. It can be difficult to know what to wear, the dos and don’ts and ultimately how to act when the show is on. So I’ve asked myself and other avid theatre fans to devise a list of tips on what to do when seeing a show.

1. Don’t be late

If you’re attending a show, it states the time of the show start on the tickets. Theatre is not like the cinema; it pretty much starts bang on time and there are no trailers. I always aim to get to the theatre half an hour before the show starts. It gives you time for bag checks, grabbing a quick drink and merchandise and to get to your seat and park your bum on it. If a show is a 7:30pm start, it doesn’t mean get to the theatre at 7:30pm. All you will do is annoy a lot of people behind and in front of you, as well at the performers, as you awkwardly side shuffle all the way along your row to your seats.

2. Think of the people sitting behind you

What to wear will be covered later on in depth although, just to start it off, don’t wear hats to a show. People spend a lot of money to visit the theatre and the worst thing is sitting yourself on the seat then looking at the stage to discover the plonker in front of you has a cap on and is blocking 40% of your view. Take it off.

Also, I know buns are the tits. They look great, they’re easy to do and they’re extremely convenient. But they block views! I went to see a show recently and the girl in front had a bun completely on top of her head. All it would’ve taken was her redoing the bun half way down her head instead on being perched on top and I would’ve had a perfect view of the stage.

If you’re not a constant theatregoer you won’t be aware of this but when you lean forwards in your seats you cut off the view for everyone sitting behind you. Theatres are designed so everyone has a decent view of the stage when people are sat upright, so be considerate and sit up so the person behind you can see!


3. Use the right door

When you arrive you will give your lovely, expensive ticket to a member of staff who will advise you on which door you need to go to to get to your seats. Please pay attention to this. I tend to sit in the middle of a row so once I’m sat down I don’t really expect to stand up. It happens far too often where people do their own thing then saunter in through the wrong door and when you’re already sat down there’s nothing more frustrating than constantly getting up and down because people can’t follow some basic instructions.


4. Respect the show

Whilst we’re on the subject of following basic instructions, there are two others that must be followed; no photography and no recording! I get seriously vexed when I see people recording shows, either just voice notes or filming. It’s extremely disrespectful to the performers and the audience and, most importantly, it’s plagiarism. You know, that illegal thing that’s illegal. Don’t do it.


5. Turn off all of your devices

The announcement “turn off your mobile phones” definitely needs an update at all theatres but, until it does, I’m going to elaborate this speech on behalf of audiences and theatres worldwide.

“Please, for the love of God, turn OFF your mobile phones. We don’t mean put it on vibrate. We don’t mean put it on silent or aeroplane mode. We mean turn it off. The audience and performers can still hear them when they vibrate. It’s not just because they’re annoyingly loud when they go off but also the screens are ridiculously bright. It’s going to annoy everyone even if you’re just checking it. So don’t be that person. Whilst we’re on the subject of backlights… If you have a smartwatch or anything else with a backlight, turn that off too. Yes, I’m serious. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to see a smart watch go off in the corner of your eye every thirty seconds when you’re trying to watch a show? Extremely. People directly next to, in front of and behind you have permission to punch you if it goes off without any repercussions. You have been warned.”

Does that make it clear? Wonderful. Moving on!


6. Don’t move seats in the interval

Moving on to moving seats. This is an extremely annoying thing to watch at the interval but everyone knows if they say anything they will look like an asshole. So they keep quiet. If we are watching a show in row C, we have paid good money for these seats. If there are empty seats directly in front of us in row B, we expect them to stay that way. Moving forwards is a threefold annoyance. Firstly, it completely throws off whoever is sitting around the empties. Especially those sat behind them. Their view of the show has suddenly changed and it completely ruins continuity. Secondly, it’s unfair on everyone else who would want those seats but maybe isn’t as quick off the mark to nab them. Thirdly, and most importantly, you didn’t pay for those seats. Why act like you’re entitled to seats you didn’t pay for? What does that say to the people who shelled out loads for the seats just behind you?


7. Bringing kids

By all means please bring your darlings along to a show, considering it’s age appropriate…. but please make sure they are old enough to sit through a show without getting wriggly and are not going to be talking and asking questions the whole way through. I have seen people bring toddlers to shows. TODDLERS. I get it, The Lion King is an amazing production and little ones know and love all of the songs. Wait until they’re old enough to appreciate the show and enjoy it along with the adults that are also there.


8. Accept that it’s a little bit cramped

Most theatres are extremely old and can be a little bit tight… and most of the newer ones are still relatively cramped as well. There’s not much leg space, seating space and room to move around. Yes, it’s annoying but guess what? We are all in the same boat. Respect the personal space of the people around you. Please don’t bring in 50 shopping bags that you’re going to try and cram under your tiny seat… It’s not a Tardis under there. Put your stuff in the cloakroom.

Seating space is never going to be generous. Theatres want profit, for profit they need sales, the more seats they can get in, the more profit they make. Therefore the more seats there are, the less leg space there is. Never be fooled into thinking you’re going to be able to stretch out. This doesn’t make it OK to fidget and move around in your seat. Normally moving can be felt by everyone on your row and you’ll probably be kicking the back of the chair in front of you as well. Also, to state the obvious, please keep your shoes on. We are not Neanderthals. We are adults watching a musical theatre production, it is not a time to be getting your feet out. Seriously.

As I mentioned, the seats are very cramped and there are only little armrests separating your tiny and expensive space in the theatre from the people either side of you. Something that really gets on my nerves is when the people both sides of me rest their elbows on my armrests meaning I have to sit there with my arms glued firmly to my sides. If you can see the person next to you has no armrest space and you’re using both, show some mercy and give them yours!!


9. Shut Up

As soon as the music begins for the start of the show or after the interval… Shut up! Even if it’s just music. There are people who adore these bits and it gets us all geared up for the show. Please don’t ruin it for us with your incessant chat.

Please keep your snacks closed. We don’t want to hear you chewing, opening wrappers or Malteasers rolling around in a box. It’s not like you’re there for 7 hours. Eat before the show and eat in the interval.

Clapping and singing along is something I detest at shows, especially musicals with well known numbers. We know you “love this song”, you don’t need to say it and/or whoop. Secondly well done, you know all the words but people paid a lot of money to watch the professionals sing it so sit back, relax, enjoy… and shut up.


10. Please clap and sing along!

I know! I know. I just said to not do exactly this but bear with me. There are some shows and some numbers that require atmosphere and you’re normally encouraged to clap along, sing along and sometimes get up and dance. The trick with this is that they will tell you when to do it! So if the ensemble are all clapping their hands in an exaggerated manner and staring at you with their big eyes trying to get you to join in, don’t be that miserable git that sits there with a face like thunder. Clap away!


11. Watch your alcohol intake

Theatres are not pubs or nightclubs so watch how much alcohol you consume in the evening. We don’t want to smell the last four glasses of house red on your breath, we don’t want you getting irritatingly chatty or singing along and we also don’t want you getting up every five minutes because you’ve broken the seal. Basically having too much to drink will cause you to start doing most things on this checklist that people won’t appreciate. Be sensible.


12. Dress code

Dress code is an often debated topic for theatre; some say we should be able to wear whatever we want and some say it’s a dress up occasion. I sit comfortably in the middle of this. At the end of the day, no there’s no dress code for the theatre but when people turn up looking like they’ve been roughing it for the last two days it’s not pleasant. As I said, for some people theatre visits are a special occasion and it’s ruined when people turn up in dingy old trainers and a baggy t-shirt from 1995.

The flip side is it’s unrealistic to expect people to properly dress up for the theatre any more. There are many people who travel to London and don’t have fancy clothes packed away. More often than not I make a day of it when I go to the theatre and I will spend my day in London enjoying the phenomenal city. The last thing I want to do is change into some heels for a show.

So find a happy medium! Wear some nice jeans and a semi-smart top. I normally wear boots with a little bit of a heel. If it’s a fancy occasion and you want to go all out then go for it! Just remember you’re going to be sat down for quite a while. So make sure you’re comfortable.


13. The fine balance of leaving

There are a lot of factors to take into account when a show finishes. Firstly, if you enjoyed the show then give a standing ovation! Please note that a standing ovation is not a time to grab your bags and leave. It’s seriously rude. As someone who often sits in the middle, however, feel free to quickly whip your coat on but don’t neglect appreciating the show just to rush out the door.

When the performers have taken their final bow it’s a good idea to get a move on. Grab your stuff, get wrapped up and start heading for the exit. There’s nothing worse than people on the end who take forever to get their stuff together and everyone else in the row is just stood there like lemons. Again, just to advise on getting the balance right, head for the exit but don’t leave! Wait until the band have finished playing, give them a clap, then get on your merry way. The band work just as hard as the people on stage and they deserve the same appreciation from the audience.


14. Enjoy it

Just to end with a very corny, but valid, point. Enjoy it. Whatever you’re seeing. Laugh, cry, feel everything that’s happening on stage and appreciate that you’re fortunate enough to be able to go and see these incredible shows. Not everyone will get the chance to see musical theatre in their lives and not everyone is lucky enough to be able to appreciate it. I wrote in an earlier blog about being an “unfortunate soul” because of my obsession with the theatre but, on reflection, I’ve found something I truly love and that truly makes me happy. If you can feel that with musical theatre or, indeed, anything… Cherish every moment.



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