Recently, I had the pleasure of going to see “The Phantom of the Opera,” at the Saenger Theatre. I am a huge Broadway fan and could not wait to see this beloved classic.
My childhood notion of going to the theater was a black and white movie image of the marquee lights, women in beautiful clothes and the social graces of old Hollywood. Now, I’ve been to the theater and realize this image is a little off base from the experience of today’s theater goers, but luckily I am still met with people who hold the theater to as high a standard as myself.
This, however, was not the case during my latest trip to “Broadway.” My perfect theater bubble was quickly popped when I ended up seated next to a hoard of hungry, thirsty, talkative individuals who scooted down the rows to their seats five minutes after the beginning of the performance.
Following this unacceptable experience, I just knew something had to be said about the proper etiquette during any sort of live performance. Perhaps they just didn’t know any better, in which case, I’m here to help with my etiquette tips for a night at the theater:
- Silence is golden
What theater goers must remember is that the performers on the stage in front of you have spent hours upon hours practicing and rehearsing. to prepare to entertain you. To speak directly in the middle of a performance, even worse over a performer’s monologue, is not only disrespectful to those around you trying to engage, but to the actors on stage who have worked to bring you this performance. Talk as much as you want before the production starts and during intermission, but when the orchestra begins to play, it’s time to wrap up any conversations and save them for after the performance.
- Put away your phone
A Broadway play does not have the luxury of showing a short animated clip at the beginning of each performance to remind viewers to turn their phones off and put them away. Just like talking during a performance, checking your phone, texting or other actions that have the screen light of your phone shining through the theater is, much like talking, disrespectful to the performers. It’s also discourteous to those seated around you. In addition, these plays and performances are a once in a lifetime experience. Unlike a movie, you cannot replay it over again if you missed something.
- Get with the program
I add this into the list, because I noticed a number of people near me constantly looking at their programs during the performance. I wanted to shake them into moment and the realization that the actual play is happening in front of them; the words on the paper are being sung live on the stage. Put the Playbill down. You can wait for intermission.
- Arrive on time
I’m surprised this isn’t common knowledge, but by the number of people who came in, awkwardly slid to their seats – which of course were in the middle of each row – and preceded to squeak around until they got comfortable, it bears mentioning. If you do not arrive at least five minutes or more before the play begins, wait until intermission before taking your seats.
- Bathroom break
It is completely understandable that, at times, a trip to the powder room is inevitable. That being said, if you feel periodic trips throughout each act are necessary, consider sprining for a seat on the aisle or towards the end of the row. Each trip out of the theater interrupts those in your row that you have to slide past, as well as those you have to pass on the way up the aisle and out of the theater. For this particular production, be sure not to take a bathroom break during “Music of the Night,” as it’s a pivotal moment of the play.
- Food and Drinks
I’d perfer it if theaters would dispense with allowing food during live performances, however, many of them, including the Saenger, do offer light snacks. This can be great for performances scheduled during dinnertime. People have to eat after all, but it can become irritating with crunching, smacking and the distinct crinkling sound of someone opening a package of M&Ms. If you must eat during a performance, remember to open any and all containers before the production starts or during the intermission.
From the moment I sit in my seat until the lights go up during intermission, I am silent, still, maybe quietly shed a tear or two and am engaged in the art that is happening in front of me. Obviously, I understand not every person gets as emotionally involved in plays and musicals as me, but all in all, just be respectful to those around you and their experience. If you want to be loud, eat great food and move around as much as you want to, consider taking the money you spent on your theater tickets and instead, visit a fabulous restaurant in the French Quarter. Otherwise, sit back, quiet yourself, relax and enjoy the show.