Theatre Etiquette #Lesson 1 – What Is Theatre Etiquette?

I recently asked online for your top gripes when it comes to theatre etiquette – what can you really not tolerate happening around you when you are trying to watch a show that you have paid good money for a ticket to see?

The top three bug-bears that came up time and time again were mobile phone use, people eating and talking.

So over the next few weeks, I will be taking each of these topics and giving my opinion on whether or not we should be cracking down on our tolerance of these annoyances at the theatre.

Other grievances that came up in the poll were drunk people, late arrivals, filming and fidgeting in seats. Plus lovers canoodling, unnecessary standing ovations and big hair!

So before we tackle the issues, let’s take a look at exactly what theatre etiquette is.

What is theatre etiquette?

Theatre etiquette is a set of unspoken rules that patrons are expected to follow when at a show. Things like being quiet, not using your phone and having a general level of respect for the people sat very closely around you.

Back in the days of Shakespeare, theatre was very different. Shows were performed during sunlight hours and were often a rowdy affair with no toilets and punters defecating where they stood in the auditorium. People like Nell Gwynn would sell oranges to the more affluent punters to help mask the smell and theatre was more of a social occasion rather than a serious few hours of mindful escapism.

But in more recent years, with the invention of electricity (which meant shows could be performed in the dark, with stage lighting) people started to see theatre as something to watch and not just to be in attendance of. And with the price of tickets in London’s West End costing up to £250 each these days, it is understandable that people don’t want to be disturbed by people around them whilst a show is on.

Obviously not everyone feels the same way about theatre etiquette. Some comments made in response to my ‘what annoys you at the theatre’ social media posts were “snobbery like this” and “people listing what people should do – its becoming like a library”.

Has theatre etiquette gone too far? Are we so on edge, waiting for someone to do something to annoy us, that we don’t enjoy theatre anymore? Should we try to ignore when things happen and focus on what is happening on stage? Is theatre etiquette only going to get worse in this social media age and juke box era where a new type of theatre goer is being introduced and doesn’t know the ‘rules’?

I don’t know what the future holds for theatre etiquette but for now it is very much alive.

Check back next week for where I will talk about mobile phone use during theatre performances!