So you’ve decided to go to the theatre

Welcome to the theatre. We are certainly glad to have you. It’s possible that you haven’t been to the theatre before, or maybe it’s been a long time since you’ve been to a play. Either way, there are a few things you should know about how to behave during a live theatrical production.

1. Turn off your cellphone: I know people tell you to do this all the time, say in movie theatres and the like, and it just as important here. In fact it may be more so. The glow of your cellphone is distracting to the people around you, and it can be seen from far away. Most everyone in the theatre can see that glow when you look at your phone. And worse, the actors can see you, and it’s distracting. No matter how concentrated an actor might be on the scene, the ethereal glow of the cellphone draws attention immediately. Which can be dangerous if the actor has to do something like sword fight. It’s also disrespectful. These actors are here, right now, putting their hearts and souls into the play you are, watching. Show them the respect they deserve and turn off your phone and pay attention.

2. No texting. This goes hand in hand with turning off your cellphone, but I have seen a lot of this lately, so it needs a separate entry. There is no excuse for texting in the theatre. Period. Not only is it distracting, to the people around you, but, as above, it’s disrespectful. So, turn off your phone.

3. No pictures. Put the camera away. That includes the one on your cellphone (which, should be off). I know that you are excited to be here, and that sharing or excitement by posting pictures of what we are doing or seeing is part of the digital culture, but its not appropriate here. There are a couple of reasons for this: a) copyright; the production you are seeing is copyrighted, and the set and costumes and images are all a part of that. b) It’s rude. The glow of the camera is just as distracting to the people around you as your phone. And if you left your flash on, then it’s even more so. It doesn’t matter if you turned off the flash, and the brightness of the screen, it can still be seen.

4. Stop talking. Sound carries in a theatre. What you think is a quiet whisper is actually carrying across the theatre. And to the stage. If you want to discuss something, wait till intermission. During the play is not the time to discuss how funny that line was or ask about something you might have missed.

5. Stay for the bows. The actors have spent the last two hours working hard to bring you the show you just saw. Thank them for their hard work. Don’t get up and leave before the bows start, stay in your seat and applaud. It’s not your chance to beat the rush to the parking lot while everyone else is distracted. It’s your chance to thank the actors for the show you just watched. Stay till its over.

Do you have any other suggestions for behaviour in the theatre? Share them in the comments.


  1. Solid advice regarding cell phones, In some cases using a phone can mess with the performance directly, not just through distraction. The backstage crew often uses walkie-talkies to communicate with stage management, and cell phone use can sometimes interfere (read: Create horrible screeching feedback) with them.

    I have to disagree a bit with #4. Obviously people sitting there having a conversation about something unrelated to the piece they’re seeing is annoying to everyone in the room, especially the performers. On the other hand, depending on the mood of the piece, talking may not always be inappropriate. Some pieces depend on audience interaction to work, others can fly without it but benefit by it. When an actor directly addresses the audience and receives a response it gives her or him something new to play with. Even in a piece where there is no direct interaction, if the mood is right, talking shouldn’t be frowned upon. Some wonderful on stage experiences happen when there’s a moment of comedy and some sweet old lady says “Oh I can’t believe he’s done that!” ; or there’s danger to a character and a child cries “No don’t do it!”; or just when you hear someone gasp or curse in reaction to something. I think you summarize the limitations to speaking in the theatre best when you say “Be respectful”. But I don’t think creating an atmosphere where people feel obliged to sit in silence in the theatre is a positive one. It makes the audience uncomfortable, and can spoil their experience. An uncomfortable, unresponsive audience takes away from a performers experience too. If you want to sit in the dark and escape through uninvolved immersion in what’s going on in front of you, see a movie. Most of us go to the theatre for an experience that we feel a part of.

    I know This isn’t the kind of talking you were referring to Phil, and yes, side conversations are inappropriate at the theatre. I just think theatre practitioners create an atmosphere of exclusion when they adopt an attitude that says “This is my show, sit quietly and watch me.” And frankly I believe it scares away audiences or leads to them finding a performance “boring”.

  2. Michael Black

    I can remember being warned at dance shows 20 years ago to not use cameras. I think it was specifically “don’t use a flash”, because that sudden distraction could cause the dancer(s) to have an accident. But that was when there were few cameras in the audience.

    I do keep my flash off except when I can’t avoid it, but it’s true, there’s the LED at the front, and the screen lights up quite a bit in the dark. I don’t take pictures at shows, but even outside it can be annoying. I know at the Fringe Festival, I’ve been at the beer tent at night, and there can often be a stream of glowing objects, people with their cellphones and other things lighting up the night.

    If you want a good seat, get there early. I remember one classic time when someone came late to a show, and then proceeding to bump into every metal chair as he moved deep into the audience (which wasn’t that crowded. At the very best, you should sit near the door if you can’t get there on time, but you should also seriously think about not going in.

    Originally, the Montreal Fringe had a policy of “no latecomers”. It was absolute. Then that rule was taken away, I suspect artists didn’t like to turn audience away. So there’s a slide of how late people can come in. If I’m not there before the start time, I won’t go in, I don’t want to fuss in the dark, I don’t want to distract the audience. There’s at least one long running Montreal Fringe venue where you can’t get to the seats without walking across the “stage”m I’m not sure if anyone is actually allowed in late there.

    One of the weird things is that when Fringe Festivals started up in Canada, the audience was seen as a key part of it, run off and write some buzz afterwards. Early on I’d offer to put up posters from acts, simply because I liked them. Now when “social media” is commonplace, I’m not sure people are really helping all that much, or just going through motions. They “know” they have to take pictures at a show, but are they effective? It all just becomes part of the clutter, doing it by rote.

    It’s the same thing as the postering of the Beer Tent, everyone rushes in to cover every available spot, but certainly here in Montreal the public isn’t even invited anymore. Nobody remembers that opening night was not only a chance for the acts to put up posters, but to meet the hardcore audience who wanted to know about the shows. A chance to get them on the artists side. Same thing happens with the Fringe For All, it used to be a chance to meet the potential audience, now it’s an Event where the audience isn’t much of a factor. Here in Montreal, the venue has become too dark, too crowded, so the acts can’t move through the audience. I’ve rescued the flyers every year since 2000, and it’s a massive collection (and I don’t even save the ones on the floor), the acts just dumping the flyers as if the flyers provide more information, when really, it’s the act of meeting the artists that is the lure. The flyer is just a way to connect the show with the artist. Oldtimers like me are ignored, so we don’t get to warn the acts to do better, and the acts at best collect their own flyers, rather than collectively grab all the flyers and sort them out aftewards.


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