7 Pieces of Theater Etiquette Everyone Should Know

Theater Etiquette

It’s the opening night of the Rent revival. The actors assemble on stage, ready to bring the house down with “Seasons of Love”…and the piercing ring of someone’s cell phone echoes through the theater. Congratulations, random theater-goer: you killed the moment for everyone.

There are many different rules to theater etiquette one should follow to give both themselves and those around them the best possible viewing experience. But what are these rules?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. We’re here to break down the 7 pieces of theater etiquette everyone should know! Now dim the lights, cue the drums, and let’s start the show!

1. Theater Etiquette Starts With Punctuality

Have you ever heard the old adage about how being early is being on time? When it comes to the theater and Broadway, this adage is the gospel truth. The Broadway standard is opening theater doors to the public 30 minutes before the show starts, though this will vary by theater. 

For theaters without registered seating, arriving early is a must if you want to get the best seats to see the show. If you’re right on the wire or late, the ushers may not let you in at all! If they do let you in, you’ll have to get to a seat past other theater-goers enjoying the opening moments of the show, and you’ll distract them from the events happening on stage.

Speaking of seating, if the theater you’re attending uses assigned seating, please stick to where your ticket says you should go. You don’t want to upset other people who paid good money for their seats, and ushers will get involved if you refuse to move. 

2. Getting to Your Seat

When it comes to squeezing past theater patrons to get to your seat, remember to say “Excuse me”. It seems obvious, but a little courtesy goes a long way to keeping everyone’s experience a good one. 

If someone’s trying to get past you, standing up in your seat instead of pulling your legs back will give them more room to move rather than pushing up against. Keeping any bags you bring small (or don’t bring any bags at all, if possible) will help make aisle travel easier too. 

3. No Electronic Devices

No doubt you’ve heard the infamous stories of Broadway stars like Patti LuPone snatching cell phones from audience members more preoccupied with texting than watching the show. While cell phone use during a show will rarely end with that much drama, it’s still very disrespectful to the performers and distracting to both them and the other audience members trying to watch the show. Silence them, or better yet, turn them off: hearing a blaring ringtone is the quickest way to ruin the atmosphere.

This rule extends to any form of electronic device too, from laptop to camera.

And while we’re on the subject of cameras, please don’t take live photography during the show. It disorients both the performers and audience, and you could get your camera confiscated in certain higher-end theaters.

4. The Food Policy

Unlike movie theaters, the rules around food are stricter in live theater. They’ve relaxed over the years, but the consensus is that you should unwrap all food before the show starts so the sounds of crinkling bags don’t distract anyone. Try to stick to snacks too: the smell (and potential messiness) of big-ticket food items like burgers or pizza will both prove intrusive for fellow audience members and a nuisance for janitorial staff. 

It’s also important to note that each theater has different rules about food. Some will ask you to keep it in the lobby, while others will still prohibit it outright. Make sure to find out what the rules for your theater are before you bring food to a show.

5. Talking and Singing

Another great rule of theater etiquette is to abstain from talking during the performance (this includes whispers). If you come into the show late and are confused about elements of the plot you missed, wait until intermission to ask your seatmate what you missed. 

If you’re attending a musical, abstain from singing the songs along with the performers (unless it’s a special sing-along show). It’s very tempting to get Hamilton tickets and then want to prove you can nail “My Shot” as well as Lin-Manuel Miranda, but the other people in the theater didn’t pay to hear your duet. 

6. Applause Timing

For new theatergoers, it’s sometimes confusing to figure out when the appropriate times to applaud are. For standard plays, act breaks (when the lights go down fully, then come back up in the house) and the end of the show are safe bets. For musicals, you applaud at both act breaks and the end of the show, as well as following any musical number. 

In some plays headlined by big-name stars, audiences will applaud when the actor comes onto the stage for the first time. This is fine, but if you’re unsure, play it by ear and follow the cue of the other audience members.

7. The End of the Show

Look, we all hate getting stuck in the parking lot outside the theater for a half-hour as everyone tries to go home. That said, please don’t leave the theater until after the actors have performed their bows. After all, you walking past everyone trying to applaud will prove distracting to them, and disheartening to the actors if they see you. 

When the curtain call is done, collect all your trash and dispose of it in the proper receptacle. If you aren’t keeping your program, give it to an usher to be re-used for a later performance rather than throw it away.

And That’s All She Wrote

So there you have it! Now that you have these 7 pieces of theater etiquette everyone should know before seeing a show, you’re ready to attend your favorite musical or play and get the best experience possible! And if you’re looking for more information on the latest in fashion and entertainment, make sure to check out the rest of the articles on our blog!


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