Is there such a thing as ‘Theatre Etiquette’ and are we doing it right?
In modern-day society, the mobile phone and the tablet have become a necessary object that humans now can’t live without. I’ve realised that I get incredibly nervous and anxious if I notice my battery is below 50% and I can’t think of anywhere that I could charge it. (I have recently purchased a portable charger, but what if I forget to charge that? The struggle is real.) Updating your social media platforms is incredibly important; to let everyone know what you’re doing, who you’re doing it with and how you’re feeling about it. Basically, showing off isn’t it? Showing off that you have a life. I do upload things on different platforms for different reasons (narcissist) and we have all created online lives and profiles for ourselves, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
There is something wrong with it, however, when you’re in a theatre space that has people holding signs saying “no flash photography and no recordings” and audience members are whipping out their phones and taking a quick selfie with a friend or with the stage. When the lights are up, I can accept it, because some theatre spaces can have such amazing architecture, and the more modern spaces, such as the Vaults of Waterloo have a creatively quirky and spooky atmosphere and are worth checking in on FB to. When the lights are down, though, and the performers are on stage, I think it is ridiculously out-of-order for someone to feel as if they can take out their phones, to check messages or take photos/videos.
Theatre Etiquette is a blurred area, I believe. Some audience members wouldn’t allow others to have sweets because the noise of eating is too loud, whilst others believe it is perfectly acceptable to get a bit sloshed and hang over the side balcony. If you’re quiet when the show is on, everything else is allowed. I once did have a couple making out and it was more uncomfortable and awkward than in the cinema because at least in the cinema you can move seats. The guy and I were touching elbows so I just did what a normal theatre goer would do and I started to talk about them purposefully louder than the average vocal speaking tone to my friend and I gave them a funny look and a smile. A woman once did this with me about my scarf – it obstructed her view. So, there is some unspoken expectations from other theatre attendees. Therefore, is it just a personal preference and standard?
A few weekends ago I was in London for a three-show weekend, from the National Theatre to the Old Vic, and in each performance, there was someone, near to me, who took their phone out mid-performance to take a photo or check a message. At the National Theatre, whilst watching Peter-Pan, on three occasions the ushers had to walk down to an audience member who had their phone out. The audience was easily a split 50/50 ratio between adults and children, and OBVIOUSLY (Duh?) that doesn’t allow for someone to get their child to stand up and get a photo in the theatre. However, to some people/parents, taking photos was perfectly okay and they were confused as to why they were being hushed and told off. It didn’t matter that they were blocking my view or blinding me with the bright light of your phone. I was stunned that the children had better theatre etiquette than the adults. One young girl, shushed her parents who were whispering about ITALIAN FOOD in front of me. This did make me smile. I thought “yeah, good on you girl, get them told.” Good thing she did, I wanted to kick the back of their chairs, or their heads. That wouldn’t have been very good theatre etiquette, would it now? 😉
I myself will take a quick snap of the programme, but not during the performance and if the usher told me off I’d apologise. (How British of me.) When I saw “No Man’s Land” starring Sir Ian and Sir Patrick, it was almost embarrassing how many people were taking photos at the end of the performance instead of applauding. I remember shaking my head because it’s as if they were appreciating the talent, the art, but were just there to take a photo and gawk. I understand they are celebrities, which is another blog for later, but the principle is still the same. Taking out your mobile phone or tablet and taking photos/videos when there are signs asking and telling you not to is incredibly rude and proves that some people have a proper theatre etiquette and others don’t. From my experience and understanding of “audiences” it is the avid, regular theatre attenders that have formed theatre etiquette and understand it. Or is it? When a child has more respect than an adult, or someone who has saved and has a cheaper seat for the one live show they’ll see this year, has more admiration and respect than the drunk millionaire in a box, is it just down to manners?
My final little rant is about how one mobile began to ring during “Art” and it was so loud and so obnoxious and it took a decent amount of time to be turned off. What the noise did though, it made everyone paranoid that it was their phone, therefore everyone was checking thier bags and phones, and a sea of noises and light was seen around the audience. It was incredibly annoying and irritating. It then takes you a good few minutes to get back into the acting and storyline. Good thing they were talented, decent actors. I’ve heard some stories where the actors have stopped and started the scene again. Which I think is their right. You’ve ruined my atmospehere, you’ve probably ruined theres.
So, this is all what got me thinking about what is theatre etiquette and is there really such a thing? Like a cinema setting, you are in the dark, watching a visual performance, but because the audience is watching something live with live performers, do some think that is more exciting to post about? If it is for the visual memory, buy a programme. The theatre is a platform for everyone individually to have their own experience; it is a visual pleasure and in order to be in the present and to fully invest yourself in the theatre, you can’t/shouldn’t have distractions, or at least as little as possible. Someone who has their phone out is not only effecting their own subjective experience but is affecting everyone around them.
Obviously, rules such as taking away people’s phones, or having silent boxes next to seats to lock your phone in seem extravagant and an infringement on people’s property and privacy. Or, not allowed food or drink in the theatre space, is ridiculous for a lot of reasons. Might as well tape everyones mouths shut. That is why there must be a sense, a universal understanding of theatre etiquette. To put it simply in this blog:
- Arrive to the theatre on time.
- If you’re late, please be quiet.
- If you’re really late, sit outside until the interval.
- Make sure you are in the correct line for box office and the entrance to the theatre.
- Once inside the theatre – be quiet.
- Phone off/silent.
- Tablet off/silent.
- No photos.
- No recordings.
- Have your food/sweets already opened, ready to go.
- If you feel the need to move, do so quietly and quickly.
- Basically, don’t be an ignorant fool.
So, what is theatre etiquette? Is it an unspoken set of rules and expectations when in the theatre, is there a proper way to behave? I think so, I think as a collective audience we have constructed a decent way to behave and experience the theatre. I do believe that a lot of the disruption is down to technology and the need to be social online. Therefore, I really hope the next time you’re in the theatre, you immerse yourself with performance and not your phone or tablet. I can assure you, you’ll have a better experience.