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Theatre Etiquette 101: Phones, Snacks & Other Errors

By Mena Buscetto

Picture this: it is the last scene of an emotionally charged, edge-of-your-seat, Broadway musical. The lights are low, there is no background music, only an actor-driven, plot-centric and incredibly moving scene happening onstage between two of the main characters. The conflict you and the other few hundred people in the audience have been agonizing over for the past act and a half is finally going to come to a close with this dialogue and – BEEP BEEP, 2002 Classic Ringtone, RING, CLICK. There is an awkward pause between the two actors and the audience (some audibly, some silently) groan and roll their eyes. Will they ever learn?

One of the things I love the most about theatre, as both a performer and audience member, is that for a couple of hours you get a break from reality and become a guest in another world. However, the overuse of technology and humankind’s dependency on it at all times has started to interfere with that unique experience.

There have been many instances of phones going off during theatre performances where the actors have fought back. The infamous Patti LuPone incident comes to mind when she physically took an audience member’s phone away because they had been texting for the entire performance.

Actors frequently speak out on their Twitter platforms as well, generically calling out audience members and reminding them that they can see the lights on their phones and hear the murmur of clicking keys and beeping noises. It is not only distracting, but disrespectful.

Technology aside, audience members have managed to find many other ways to disrespect performers. I too have experienced this. At the age of nine, I was dancing my little heart out in the front row during a production of Oklahoma! when I spotted a woman reading a Harry Potter book in the audience. I like Harry Potter as much as the next guy, and I’m sure our production was not Broadway level entertainment. But really? Apparently, this happens at all levels, and it’s time these people become aware of the problems they are creating.

Even if you’re not an avid theatre-goer, or you’re planning on seeing a show for the first time, please (I beg you) take the following pieces of advice into consideration.

5 Things NOT To Do At A Broadway Show

1. DO NOT USE YOUR PHONE
The people on stage can see it, the people next to you can see it, and you’re probably missing the show.

2. CHOOSE YOUR SNACKS WISELY
I was at a production of Dear Evan Hansen a few weeks ago and the couple behind me decided to pack their pretzels, chips, and popcorn in brown paper bags. Needless to say, every time they decided they were hungry (during the quietest, most somber parts of the show, of course) it was extremely obnoxious. Next time have a Twizzler, they are much quieter.

3. REFRAIN FROM TALKING
This same couple referenced above continuously asked each other questions like “What’s going on?” “What did he mean when he said that?” and “Who is she again?” throughout the show. Not only that, but they took a full five minutes to discuss what they thought the outcome of the show would be…in the first act. Broadway shows are not home movie experiences. You can’t pause the show to theorize with your friend about the upcoming events or plot twists. Also, even if you think you are whispering, you probably aren’t, and even so the seats in most theaters are very close together. We are all asking ourselves the same questions about the show. But silently. Shhh!

4. 8:00 pm. IS NOT AN ACCEPTABLE ARRIVAL TIME.
If the show starts at 8:00 p.m., do not get there at 8:00 p.m. There are people in the audience who have been waiting in their seats for fifteen minutes or longer, and now have to wait for ten more so you can use the bathroom, get a drink and finally grace us with your presence and take a seat.

5. STRATEGICALLY PLACE YOUR BATHROOM BREAKS.
Pre-Show. Intermission. After. (Especially if you’re in the middle of a row).

These things are pretty straightforward, and yet they are all incidents I have experienced time and time again during my time at Broadway shows. When things like this happen, audience members and actors alike are mentally removed from the piece. As a result, it is not only super uncomfortable, but a blatant reminder of our technological dependency and the lack of appreciation and inability to exist in the present moment. You probably paid more than you would for a week of groceries to get a ticket to the show, so you may as well enjoy it and be there.

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