Have We Forgot How To Behave At The Theatre? | OPINION

Lincoln Center in New York City | Photo: Alevision/Unsplash
Caroline Giovannucci
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August 1, 2021 6:15 PM

Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to go to my first live show in months. Not only was the performance at the stunning Royal Albert Hall here in London, but the show was called “Best of the West End” and included a stunning line-up of Phantoms, Aladdins, and Velmas (oh my!). With a variety of songs from shows as modern as Moulin Rouge!, to classics such as Funny Girl, everyone in the audience had the opportunity to feel as though they were back at their favourite theatre once again. We even were graced with the spectacular Kerry Ellis, the first Brit to play Elphaba, who performed a delicious Wicked medley that made you feel like you were back at the Apollo Victoria. The performance from every star on stage throughout the show was top-tier and ended with a clear message between back-to-back “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat.”

Despite the camaraderie the audience felt finally being back at a live show, parts of this were short-lived due to the lack of decorum many audience members exhibited at my particular performance. Throughout the three-hour show, dozens of audience members would stand to take photos using flash-photography. Additionally, the number of members recording the performance on their phones and—yes—even their iPads, was enough to warrant members of staff to get involved at the interval. Sitting in my section of the stalls was a lovely couple who had to ask the same man in front of them to put his phone away more times than I could count on my hands. During the interval, I had the opportunity to speak with this couple and we bonded over our frustration with the audience (and love of the rendition of “Cell Block Tango” the cast had just put on). They mentioned they could hardly focus on the brilliant performance being put on for us on stage because of the distractions from full-brightness screens and camera flashes.

This got me thinking – have showgoers forgotten the way to behave at live performances? I decided to offer up some helpful tips for those of us who may have forgotten over the past year and a half of a dark Broadway and West End on how to act so we can all get the most out of upcoming shows.

  1. Immerse yourself! One of the most special things about live shows is just that—they’re LIVE. You can’t rewind or pause, which means you need to be fully immersed to get the most out of it. Keep your phone away; let’s be honest, you’re not going to go back and watch the clips you took. Additionally, it’s distracting for others and almost always not even allowed. If you really want to remember the show, come early and take some photos of the stage and write down any special thoughts you had after the show or during the interval.
  2. There’s no excuse not to applaud. The performances you’re going to see weren’t just thrown together—they took months, if not years, of work from choreographers, directors, lighting assistants, costumer designers, performers, ushers, and so many more. It doesn’t matter if you have a drink or program in your hands, put it down and give a round of applause when it’s time.
  3. Be on time. Always make sure you give yourself proper travel time to get the show on time. You can’t control the traffic or the server at your pre-show dinner bringing the bill the moment you need it, but you CAN control leaving before you absolutely have to or scheduling an earlier dinner. When you show up late, you won’t just crawl over audience members to get to your seat, but you’ll make it so those who did get to the show on time will have to get out of their own immersion to let you pass over them.
  4. Save discussions for the interval (intermission, for my American friends across the pond), or even after the show. Did you find Glinda performing “Popular” especially comedic? Do you LOVE the tap sequence during “Skimbleshanks” and want to start taking tap classes now? Your friends don’t need to hear your thoughts about that in the middle of the performance. If your friends can hear you, chances are other members can hear you as well. Save it for the end of the show.

If you remember one thing as an audience member, it’s to have respect. Have respect for everyone who worked hard to put on a lovely performance for you. Have respect for the other audience members who may have been dreaming for years of seeing this performance. Have respect for yourself and the fact that you’re at this performance because you care about the arts, and it would be a shame to not fully enjoy the performance.

Caroline Giovannucci is a contributing writer who lives in London. She can be reached on Twitter at @CAROLof_thebell

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Caroline Giovannucci

Originally from Boston, Caroline currently resides in London, taking full advantage of having the West End right at her doorstep. Her love of theatre was ignited at age thirteen when she landed the lead role of “Rosie” in her school’s production of Bye Bye Birdie. Caroline is an avid Queen fan, fencer, mac and cheese enthusiast, and Veronica Mars aficionado.