Theatre etiquette, I know I’m probably preaching to the choir, but who watches plays more than those of us that are in them and directing them? Every cast wants a ‘Good Audience’ but do we know what a good audience is? This is a list of things I look for in a good audience when I’m directing and things I do to be a good audience. Most of it is common sense but here is a list of good theatre etiquette for the audience. Maybe you could post it on the bathroom stall doors for your next performance. A little reminder never hurt!
Be on time~
Be on time, or early if you want a seat. A cast goes through a lot of work, months actually, of practicing, rehearsing, building sets, and a million other things. They deserve an audience that cares enough to be on time. Besides, the best seats always go first.
It always gives me a little tinge of excitement to know that we have people coming early just to get a good spot. Or that little flutter of scared relief to see the audience filling up early. Half fear that something will go wrong in front of all these people, and half ecstatic excitement to know they came especially to watch your play. It makes it feel like it was worth my time directing the play.
Bathroom first please~
I know this should be obvious, it’s not like we’re five years old and going on a road trip. But still. There’s something about all the excitement of going to the play. For some reason no one knows they need to go until they sit down and relax. They try to hold it, but inevitably by the time scene one has started they really gotta go! Then, they “discreetly” stand up, and bump past everyone else in their row, find the restroom and “discreetly” once again bump past everyone on their way back to their seat.
Just go to the bathroom first and all your problems are solved. Because you really don’t want to wait for intermission and wait in line with 75% of the rest of the audience.
I know this should be obvious, but often it’s easy to forget. Maybe you lost interest in the play for a little bit. That is still no reason to start talking to the person next to you. There is nothing more annoying than listening to the random person in the seat next to you talk to her friends about her boyfriend. Not only does it make you miss part of the play, it makes every one around you not be able to concentrate.
Usually at the beginning of a production they will ask everyone to silence their phones. This at least reminds you not to let your random ringtone blare out in the middle of their performance. Take it one step further and don’t text. You may as well have just stayed home. Because you won’t be listening or watching what is going on on the stage. Your mind will be wrapped up in who ever you are talking to.
Turn off your phone~
While we are talking about phones. You shouldn’t text, or talk on your phone, so you might as well turn it off. Then you won’t be tempted to text. Allow yourself to be completely involved in the play. You will enjoy it more and be a much better audience because of it.
That is the sound of a wrapper being unwrapped in the middle of a dramatic scene in a play. Because everyone else isn’t’ opening wrappers, yours is the only sound echoing through the auditorium. It is so distracting, and totally breaks the mood of the play. If you have candy, or cough drops open them before.
Pop cans crunching are a no no!
My mom used to always have an intermission during her plays, we would sell goodies, pop and water. Until one day, we realized we were our own worst enemy. Everyone would come back from intermission with pop cans, and water bottles. I never knew cans and bottles could be so loud! We would lose the mood to the second half of our play almost every time.
If you get goodies during intermission, either get quiet things that don’t’ take concentration to eat. This way you can still watch the show. Or just make sure it’s all gone before intermission is over.
Take care of your garbage~
If you do decide to get food, be considerate and take care of your garbage. Yes, you can leave you candy wrapper on the floor and no one will know who actually did it. But you will. And I promise, when 200 people think no one will notice if they leave their garbage. I notice! And anyone helping me clean up notices!
Don’t take your shoes off~
Don’t take your shoes off. I know it sounds tempting, tired, sweaty feet and all that. But I promise no one wants to see or smell your feet. Maybe your feet don’t stink you say, but most people don’t smell their own feet. But the guy sitting next to you might beg to differ.
Can I bring children?
A lot of professional theatres don’t’ allow children under a certain age. So check before if it’s alright to bring children. If it is OK, be respectful. If you have a small baby that might get sad be considerate and sit towards the back where you can take them out quickly and quietly.
I have children too, and when I can I like to bring them with me, I want them to gain a love for theatre too. Maybe I just know my baby is going to sleep the whole time so I’ll bring them. Or maybe I can’t find a baby sitter. It’s OK to bring children if it’s allowed but if they start crying or talking, don’t let them ruin the play for everyone else in the audience.
I love children, in fact in my dream auditorium I’m going to have a special, sound proof room with one way glass so mothers and children can have a place to watch the play and not disturb others.
When to clap~
Actors and actresses need to know they are doing a good job, especially if it is comedy. The best way to let them know is to clap. The louder and better response you give the actors the better they will do. When I am acting, I feed off of the audience. The best audiences are the ones that clap and cheer letting us know if we are doing a good job.
When to laugh~
There is nothing funner than knowing your joke was funny. When we did our play “Oh Those Harper Girls” we got to the very last few practices and we honestly didn’t know if it was funny. We’d heard all the jokes a million times, they where funny, or used to be. Even when some of the parents came to watch, they hardly laughed. Our entire play was built on comedy and every one was sober faced. I had no idea what to do.
Then 2 nights before performance a girl we knew came to watch and help with make up. This girl had the loudest most infectious laugh. She sat on the front row and laughed, she genuinely thought it was funny. And guess what, that did it, it tipped our cast over the edge from kind of good to awesome! Never underestimate how much one person’s laugh can do.
When NOT to laugh~
Well I just got done saying it’s good to laugh, good to clap. Sometimes it’s not. Drama is one place that it’s not OK. Those people on stage work very hard to get into character. To have someone laugh when you are performing a sad or dramatic scene can crush those on stage.
Yes, it might be funny to you, or maybe something just hit your funny bone, maybe they aren’t the best at acting. Give them respect anyway, they can feel your emotions just as you can feel theirs. If you allow yourself to be drawn into the play both cast and audience will feed off of each others feelings.
When not to clap~
Yes, it shows them they are doing a good job but don’t over do it. Actors are usually taught to give the audience time to appreciate them, by letting them clap and laugh. Listen for the cues.
Often there will be someone to direct the clapping. I know it sounds weird, a clap director? But all it takes is one person to start clapping at the right time and everyone else will follow suit. Listen to those cues.
As a general rule, at least for small productions, like I’m involved in. I clap after each song, and at the end of each scene. You don’t want to clap before the end of a scene, even if they are doing really good because it will make so you can’t hear the next lines.
Sometimes you will be so into the play and you just feel like clapping they are doing so good. If it’s a good time, don’t be afraid to be the one to start a clap you will make them act even better. At the end of a performance sometimes you feel like standing up and clapping because they did so good. A standing ovation, as this is called is about one of the best thank you’s you can give the cast.
I suppose it is human nature to put others down to elevate our own selves. But don’t do it. Especially not at a play. It’s easy to watch a play and criticize everything they do and say, all the things they could do better. Just turn it around, would you do much better? Maybe, maybe not.
There are times for constructive criticism, but not on the performances. As an audience, it is your job to give them encouragement and support. Let them know they are doing a good job, even if they aren’t. They are probably doing the best they can and your criticism isn’t’ going to make them any better.
Plays are all about a cast going through a lot of work to put on a play for the enjoyment of the audience. As an audience it’s your job to be a good audience, and enjoy yourself. Be respectful to them and let them know they are doing a good job, by clapping and laughing. To get the best experience from a play you have to totally immerse yourself in it. Then it will be worth it for everyone.
I know these are my personal ideas for the perfect audience, but what do you think makes the perfect audience? Comment below, I love to hear everyone else’s ideas!