14 Theater Etiquette Tips To Follow

Theater Etiquette Tips
Most theatre etiquette rules are common sense: don’t be loud, respect your neighbours, switch off your phones, and pay attention to what’s going on on-stage. Feel free to applaud at appropriate times, and be respectful to the staff and venue.

1. No Cell Phones!

There should be no ringing or text alerts from cell phones during the show. It’s bad enough to be distracted by somebody’s cell when you’re out and about, but in the theater, it’s a cardinal sin. Remember, you won’t just be annoying your fellow audience members, but maybe putting off the performers as well!

The best practice is to completely turn off your cell phone. Silencing does work, but there’s always the risk you might accidentally bump it and turn the noise back on. Turning off your cell phone lets you fully immerse yourself in the performance; you can always check it at intermission!

Unless you’ve got a potential emergency coming up, there’s no need to keep your phone on – and in that case, maybe going to a show isn’t the best use of your time!

2. Check your Seat

Be sure to know your seat number and sit in the correct chair. Theaters are often more cramped than movie theaters, and sitting in the wrong seat can cause a huge log jam. Most theatres now send notifications or text messages with e-tickets confirming your seats, so have those on hand to ensure you get to the right place.

Most big theaters will have multiple doors to help you get to the correct seat. Check the signs, and if you’re unsure, ask the ushers pre-show. They’re there to help and will be more than happy to show you to your seat!

3. Avoid Munching

having popcorn and soft drinks in the theater
Avoid munching crunchy food in theater

There is now an established culture of eating food while watching movies. While this is passing over into live performance too, it is much less commonplace. If you need to snack, avoid crunchy foods (like potato chips or crackers) that make a lot of noise while being eaten.

4. Coughs and Sneezes

Though coughs and sneezes are unavoidable facts of life, it is best to try not to spend the show hacking, as this can put off other patrons. There is an old joke that the theater is the only way to stop 500 people coughing for two hours. This is only partly true: nobody will be upset by a singular cough or sneeze, but if they’re constant, it can be distracting.

Make sure to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing to not spray germs over the rest of the audience. If you have a really tickly throat, taking some cough drops or lozenges might be a good idea to ensure you don’t ruin the show for those around you. However…

5. Rustle Rustle

Nothing is more frustrating than having to listen to someone unwrap mints, sweets, chocolate, or chips during a quiet moment of a live theater show. First-time theatergoers should be aware that, while having a few snacks quietly is okay, do your best to avoid anything that requires a lot of unwrapping. Be sure to open bags before the show or at intermission.

6. Not the Place to Chat

Don’t talk to your neighbors during the show. Theater tickets are often expensive, and many people book shows months in advance. Nobody has paid to come and listen to your conversation with your friend, so save it for the end!

Not only will talking annoy your fellow audience members, but it will also ruin your experience. The joy of theater is that you, the hundreds of audience members, and the cast and crew get to experience something wonderful together in the same space. You’ll have a much better time if you fully engage with that rather than getting distracted by your friends.

7. Not a Sing-Along

Singing along to musical theater shows is not considered good etiquette. In Broadway shows, the songs are a huge part of the story. If you wouldn’t speak along to one of Hamlet’s soliloquies, you shouldn’t sing along to the songs in Les Miserables.

In some jukebox musicals (shows made up of famous pop songs, such as Mamma Mia), there are finale numbers where the audience is encouraged to dance or sing. In that case, have a great time but save it until the correct moment!

Also learn: 13 Concert Etiquette Rules

8. Dress Code

The attire for theatergoers has become more relaxed in recent years. Dressing up fancily is no longer required, and jeans, t-shirts, and trainers are considered acceptable at most Broadway shows.

However, remember that going to the theater is a special occasion for many people, and try to exercise common sense. Clothes that would be inappropriate for a work environment are probably inappropriate for the theatre too.

9. Stay Awake

Falling asleep at the theatre is a big no-no. Not only will you likely distract your neighbors with snoring or other noises, but remember that the actors can often see audience members from on stage – falling asleep during their performance is incredibly rude! If you are struggling, quietly excuse yourself and go and sit in the foyer, or better yet, head home for an early night!

10. Personal Space

Don’t be that person who takes up their own seat and half of the people on either side of them! Theater seats are often quite cramped together, meaning that audience members need to be considerate of their neighbors.

If you have big coats, rucksacks, or shopping bags from a day wandering the streets of New York, check them into the cloakroom before the show. When you sit down, work out which armrest is yours, and try only to use one, leaving the other for the person next to you.

11. Showing your Appreciation

a group of people applauding a performance
Know when to applaud the performance

A great thing about theater is the ability to show the performers how much you enjoy the show; however, don’t take it too far! The general rule is that you should applaud at the intermission and the final curtain call; in musical theater shows, it’s encouraged to warmly applaud after each song has finished.

However, applauding for too long or at the wrong moments and whooping too loudly can break the show’s flow and frustrate audiences and stage managers alike. Save your biggest claps and standing ovations for the final curtain call when you can whoop and cheer without fear.

12. Don’t Litter

This one is common sense: don’t leave rubbish all over the auditorium. If you have cups or wrappers, take them with you and throw them in the bin. If food or drink is spilled, let an usher know. It’s somebody’s job to clean up after you, but that doesn’t give you license to make a mess of their workspace!

13. Be in the Moment

There is strictly no recording or photographs to be taken during live theater shows. Recording theater shows is actually illegal because it is a breach of copyright and counts as stealing the work of the artists involved. Equally, it distracts those around you and prevents you from fully enjoying the show! Live in the moment – put the phone away.

14. Smoking and Liquor

As in all indoor areas, there is strictly no smoking inside a theater. If you need to smoke, do so at the intermission or pre-show. But remember, smoking creates an unpleasant smell that many people do not enjoy. Bring deodorant or perfume to cover the odor if you need to smoke.

Drinking is allowed, with many people getting a glass of wine or a beer pre-show or during the intermission. However, theaters aren’t bars: don’t get drunk, as this could make you loud or annoying!

Jack Fairey

Jack is a writer based in west London, England. He is a keen traveler, and has a particular interest in the fascinating differences in etiquette across the world. When not writing, he can be found dreaming up his next trip to far off places.

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