Saturday, November 06, 2004

Theatre Etiquette for Newcomers


Live theatre is a demanding medium for both the performers and the audience. The actors and actresses have only one opportunity to produce a line or make a move. They pride themselves in presenting a program you will enjoy; one you will be so absorbed in as to forget they are merely players in a drama. The audience has expectations as well -- to enjoy the show without distraction. Since theatre is live, there is no chance to "rewind" to catch a missed line. Even minor noises and distractions can mar, or even ruin, an otherwise profound evening for both actor and patron.

Over the centuries, as performance art has matured, a number of unwritten rules regarding etiquette have evolved. As the years have produced potential new problems, so has common sense dictated a modified approach for stage settings. Below we summarize some of the common "rules of thumb" in the hopes that doing so will make you a considerate theatre-goer -- one not likely to stick out as a "sore thumb" novice. We hope this immeasurably elevates your own theatre experience as well. Break a leg!

Stage time
The theatre has long prided itself in being an event that happens on time. Most theatres close and lock the doors just prior to curtain time to prevent people from wandering in late. If you don't make curtain, in general, you don't get in. In places where you can, it is still considered very rude to arrive late. Once the curtain is up and the lights down you should remain seated until intermission or the end of the show. It is considered rude to leave and return to the theatre during the show. Opening and closing doors may ruin the ambience.

Seat noise
The house usually opens about 30 minutes prior to curtain. Arriving early allows you the chance to pick a good seat and to settle into place. The extra time is good for removing coats and jackets, setting purses away, chatting with friends, getting yourself in a receptive mood for the show, and reading the program to familiarize yourself with director, cast, plot and music. Once the lights go down, try to remain as settled as possible. Squeaking chairs, program page flipping, and coat and jacket noise can be unnerving for the cast and annoying to the audience.

Food and drink
It is okay to eat and drink during a show (if house rules allow), but be conscious of the noise you create.

Talking and whispering
Please refrain from talking or whispering audibly during the show. Although most show-buzz is caused by intelligent conversation and interested questioning, the sound of the human voice is among the very most distracting of all theatre noise. It's best to refrain until intermission or post-show when such commentary can be addressed with gusto among the company of friends.

Your kids are among the most important of all our patrons for they represent the future of theatre-going. We welcome them with open arms. Realize however, that they present special problems. A child that is uninterested in the particular presentation may grow restless and inadvertently noisy. There is no real cure for this except choosing, very carefully, the shows which you attend with children in tow. Should your children become noisy please deal quickly with the noise or have them wait outside. Another problem is restroom use. Some shows may go over an hour without an intermission. Please make sure your children have used the restroom prior to curtain, so they do not leave during the show. Crying babies can be very disruptive. If you have a very young child with you, please sit at the end of a row, and leave immediately if the baby begins to cry or chatter. You may return when the baby has resumed sleeping or is unlikely to cry out.

Shakespeare never had to deal with electronics. We do. Please turn off all cell phones, beepers and watch alarms before the show starts. We'd hope that you could use your time in the theatre as a retreat from the pressing needs of the world. If, however, you are set up for emergency calls or need to be available (because of kids, etc.) please leave your beeper or phone in the box office with instructions. We will come get you if there is an emergency. Be aware that video cameras make noise, may interrupt someone else's view, and usually violate royalty agreements. Please do not use them. Flash cameras are disastrous in the course of the play. When the show is over you may ask an actor to pose on stage for you, but please don't take pictures during the play.

In community theatre no one is paid for their acting. It is a labor of love with few rewards. In addition to working hard to provide a quiet stage, it is polite to applaud the actors and actresses for the effort they have expended behind the scenes for your entertainment. Truly outstanding work may be rewarded by standing as you applaud, calling the actors back to the curtain for more appreciation. The actors often appear on stage or in the reception area after the show. Please give them a few minutes to recover backstage and change out of heavy costumes. Posing for pictures and signing autographs is a reward for a job well done and most actors and actresses are thrilled to fill such requests.

We're certain that, as you observe longtime theatre-goers in the crowd tonight, you will detect a certain dignity and sophistication about them. This "air" is what gives live theatre its ability to entrance the audience in ways that movies cannot. We sincerely hope you are fulfilled by your experience, and that someday you will join us as players and technicians on the stage.

Thank you,

The Hill Country Arts Foundation