Theatre Going Etiquette!

In cities across the country, Fall is the season for attending various performing arts. Here are a few guidelines to help make your experience—such as a play, an opera, symphony or ballet—more enjoyable for you and others and to avoid irritating or offending those around you.

BEFORE THE PERFORMANCE:

  1. Dress the part. Going to the theatre is a fun, dress-up affair. Take time before the event to plan and choose what you will wear. In most cases, it is not appropriate to show up wearing the style clothes better associated with a back yard barbecue. Avoid wearing jewelry such as earrings, bangles, or beads that make noise when you move. Go light on perfumes that may cause discomfort for others. Remove hats, especially and including baseball caps, when in the theatre. For men it is most inappropriate to wear any hat indoors, and for women it is not recommended, as it may obstruct the view of others in the audience.
  2. Know the score. Especially for musical events, if you are unfamiliar with what is being performed, do as much homework as possible before the show to best understand the nuances of the event. Check out recordings at the library or go on-line to sites such as www.metopera.org/synopses or www.classical.net to read about the story, author, composer, and music. Many performances include notes and a show synopsis in the program.
  3. Arrive on time. It may be considered fashionable to arrive a few minutes late to a party, but this is not true for the theatre. Confirm the start time of the performance and plan accordingly. It is best to arrive early, so that you have time to find your seat, relax, and read the program notes and show synopsis. There is no standard that performances begin at 8:00 p.m. and are punctuated by intermissions. Latecomers are often requested to remain in the back of the hall or outside in the lobby or a viewing room, until the end of the first act or movement. For performances without an intermission, you could be completely shut out if you arrive late.
  4. Eat lightly. It is best to eat and drink in moderation before a performance. A large meal may make you sleepy. Your elegant evening may be destroyed if your companion has to nudge you awake when you nod your head or start to snore! Choose another time to eat lots of garlic, onions, chili peppers, beans, and other odorous foods. Keep in mind that you will be sitting with a large group of people for several hours. There is nothing worse than smelling the person near you all evening.

DURING THE PERFORMANCE:

  1. Be still. Please sit still and be quiet throughout the performance. Refrain from fidgeting, moving your head and body around, rustling papers, tapping your feet or hands, humming along, or carrying on conversations—even in a whisper. To keep from coughing, be prepared with a cough drop. Carry your drops or candy at the top of your purse or pocket with the wrapper loosened ahead of time, to keep the noise of undoing the cover to a minimum.
  2. Lose the electronics. Above all, make sure your cell phone and other electronic devices are turned off during the entire performance. If you absolutely must hear from someone, keep the device on the vibrate mode and fully leave the theatre to answer the call.
  3. Stay in your space. Be sure to sit up straight in your seat. Do not lean forward in your chair, especially when seated in an upper level row. You may be unaware that this terribly obstructs the view of those behind you. Choose one armrest to use, not both. Keep your elbows, knees, and feet within your designated space.
  4. Savor the performance. Do not read your program—or anything else—during the performance, especially using a penlight. Instead, read the program ahead of time or during the intermission.
  5. Be appreciative. Applause and cheers are an integral part of the performance. It is the true reward for the performers. However, be sensitive about when it is appropriate to applaud at a performance. Generally speaking,
    DO applaud …
    — the conductor as he or she first arrives on stage.
    — at the end of each act in an opera or play.
    — after the last movement in a musical piece.
    — as loudly as you desire at the conclusion of the entire performance.
    DO NOT applaud …
    — the star performer as he or she first enters the stage.
    — between movements in a musical piece.
    — after each aria or song a performer sings.
    — when you first view a new set on stage.

AFTER THE PERFORMANCE:

  1. Enjoy the finale. Do not make a mad dash for the door the moment the curtain falls or the last note is played. It is very rude to ask folks to let you out while they are showing the performers their appreciation with applause and cheering. Plus, if you leave right away, you may miss an exciting encore. Let people closer to the aisles depart first.

BONUS TIP: One of the most telling signs of a theatre-savvy person is how they cheer a performer. When cheering a woman performer, the proper term is BRAVA!
When cheering only a man performer, the proper term is BRAVO!
When cheering both men and women performers, the word to say is BRAVI! (Pronounced “bra vay”)

Happy Practicing!

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