Have we taken Theatre Etiquette too far?
Blogs about etiquette are nothing new in the world of theatre. Talking about bad behaviour and how audience members ‘should’ behave come up every day online with disgruntled (one of my favourite words) audience members talking about what they witnessed at a show the night before. I myself am no stranger to writing these types of blogs in moments of frustration, when my experience has been tainted by inconsiderate people who think it’s ok to talk throughout the show or shine the bright light from their phone in my face just so they can scroll through Facebook. But in talking about these things, are we creating barriers for people with disabilities to feel unable to go to the theatre for the risk of not adhearing to our standards and feeling unwelcomed.
A week ago I attended the first ever Autism Friendly Relaxed Performance of Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre. These special performances of shows allow those with autism, Tourettes or any other conditions which mean staying quite or still in your seat for long periods of time may not be possible, to take part. Lights are dimmed and audience members are encouraged to move around the theatre if they need to, talk and express themselves in any way they want, enjoying the magic of theatre without the pressure of being judged for being different.
I myself have been at theatre shows, when someone with an obvious disability has shouted all the way through the performance. When you’re paying around £100 for a ticket, this kind of thing is frowned upon by audience members as it can take your focus away from the show and hinder your enjoyment. This is the reason it is great that more and more shows are now doing Relaxed Performances, allowing people to still enjoy theatre without distracting others.
It’s sad that these special performances have had to be created as we do not tolerate talking or getting up from your seat when we are at the theatre but it is equally incredible that we have found a way to bring theatre to all types of people.
We need to support the encouragement of staging more Relaxed Performances in the West End because at the moment there are only a handful of shows taking part in this initiative. Imagine if you could no longer go to the theatre because of a condition you developed. Wouldn’t it be awful to know there were only a handful of shows that you could attend because of theatre etiquette? Let’s support inclusion for all.
Photo: Matt Crockett