Theatre Etiquette: For the love of theatre behave yourselves!


As a regular theatre-goer, and having completed three graduate year drama school shows in the past six months, I find myself frequently frustrated by modern theatre etiquette – or the seeming lack of it. What has happened to the premise of what is and what is not acceptable in a theatre auditorium?

Many will have heard, or experienced, horror stories where the manners and behaviour of some audience members are concerned – but it’s the little things that people seem to have resigned to the inevitability of that frustrates more than the obscene actions of a singular audience member.

The rustling of sweets, chatter whilst the performance is in full swing, the flash of a camera phone taking a photograph – all little things, but nonetheless very demeaning to those on stage (and the rest of the audience giving the performers their full attention, and given the often high ticket prices they have paid). 

On more than one occasion have I seen someone holding aloft a very indiscreet iPad, quite clearly recording the performance. Not only is this unacceptable behaviour but also on most occasions breaking the law, as copyright laws prohibit the recording of performances.

Most people seem to be good at making sure the rest of the audience are not subject to their embarrassing ringtone’s during the performance, although the buzz of vibrate mode is still a major bugbear, but the glow of screens seems to have become commonplace in the modern auditorium. In a darkened auditorium it is glaringly obvious and still frowned upon, but this does not seem to deter such behaviour in some audience members.

v6wiILive theatre is not a TV show or a film that you can rewind, or repeat watch if you miss something, you are watching a unique performance that is never exactly the same from night to night – that’s something special that an audience member should revel in, and want to make sure they catch every single moment of. In live theatre the audience are as much a part of the performance as the actors are, and you certainly wouldn’t expect the actors to whip out their phones and check Facebook, or take a quick selfie, in the middle of a performance.

The declining behaviour of audience members seems to have coincided with the declining standard of attire that audience members wear to the theatre. Now, I’m not suggesting that white tie and tails should be required to visit the theatre, but I am a firm believer that an audience member should look presentable, and to a certain extent smart. The decline of dressing standards has cheapened the experience of a visit to the theatre in my opinion – perhaps I digress and this conclusion has no real evidence, but you can make a case for the correlation.

Reality television and celebrity culture may also have played its part, as every other week a new “star” from the types of show like X-Factor is cast in a new theatrical production. Perhaps fans of celebrity casting (maybe not ordinarily theatre goers) treat the performance like they would if they were sat in front of their television’s, where using your phone might be commonplace?

But the fact remains, can people really not switch off from the outside world for a mere few hours? Can people really not trust their eyes and memories to capture the beauty of live theatre, knowing they will share something special with fellow theatre-goers? Isn’t that what theatre is for, to escape from reality and to be transported elsewhere? 

There is no excuse to be sat looking at your phone in a theatre. The actors, creatives and stage crew work very hard to entertain you – if you’d rather be somewhere else, or rather be sending text messages, by all means please leave and let the people that do wish to be entertained enjoy themselves without disruption.

Share your thoughts on theatre via social media by all means, but for the love of theatre leave it until the interval or when the curtain falls.

We’re convinced that all our readers are perfectly behaved at the theatre, but perhaps you’d like to share our theatre etiquette top tips with inconsiderate audience members.

Theatre Etiquette


  1. Great article, and so utterly true! I can’t say I agree entirely about the dress code thing, however, as that is running a little too close to the notion of theatre be the reserve of those who can afford to present themselves in a way that is deemed “proper”. Going anywhere looking like a moron is generally unwise, though.

    I think a lot of the problem comes from the “entitlement generation” – this constant feeling that one can do whatever one wants to, and no-one can stop them. The society that will scream “my rights” into the face of someone else, but will tell anyone else speaking that it is also their RIGHT to have everyone else silent.

    I once stopped someone from going in to see a show at a theatre I was on FOH for…because they were shuffling a bag of popcorn in. I was polite and just reminded them that we don’t allow food in the……..

    ……whoaaaaaaa did I get an earful?!!!?! I heard the phrase “my rights” about 5 times. So when they had finally finished their tirade I calmly and politely asked them to take a look at their ticket…and the bit where it said the theatre had the right to refuse entry at any point, and to eject any person no respecting other patrons. Which is what I did. Yeh they then tried to get a refund but that never happened.

    I am going to be a bit of a snob myself, now, though. I must confess what a joy it is – in Birmingham especially, to go and watch classical music concerts at the ICC. The audience is of a different class there and I just love the atmosphere of mutual respect, and that the raising of a conductors baton can silence the entire orchestra AND the entire audience in a single moment! I love it!

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