Welcome to the official Hamilton Players blog: All the world's a stage...

Thoughts and ruminations on all things theater...and then some!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Theater etiquette...revisited Part 1

I have posted about this before, but since our theater continues to grow and bring in new participants, patrons, and actors, I think it's time to revisit the idea of theater etiquette. What is acceptable for a move theater is very different (although, truth be told, it shouldn't be!) that what is acceptable for live theater...but unless you have really stopped to think about it, you may not realize it.  The main difference is due to the fact that in live theater there are real people in real time performing for you, whereas in a movie it is pre-recorded.  What this means is that the performers in a movie will not be distracted or interrupted by the reaction or action of the audience and their performance is the result of multiple takes, editing, and camera angles to bring you the best possible performance.  In live theater, the real actors are right there in front of you, in real time and not only can they be distracted or interrupted, but they have only one chance at each show to bring you the best performance they possibly can.  They don't get another "take" to get it right. So let's look another look at the etiquette expected from a live theater audience.

First and foremost: BE ON TIME.  In most professional theaters, if you arrive after curtain (start) time, you will have to wait until intermission to be seated.  Many community theaters will still try to seat you, but you may have to wait until a scene change/break in the action.  However, even in a community theater you may not get to take your seat late if the house if full and your seats are located where it will create a great distraction to get to.  We know you paid for a ticket, but so did everybody else and it is not fair to the other patrons or the actors to interrupt the whole show to help you find your assigned seat in the darkened theater.  Most theaters cannot compete with the special effects and point of view created by movie magic, so it relies on the willing suspension of disbelief from its audience.  Interrupting the flow of the show once it has started takes the audience out of the fantasy and makes it difficult to recapture the magic.  Many theater also have a 10 minute policy for will-call tickets:  if you haven't picked up your ticket by the 10 minutes to curtain mark, you ticket may be released and resold.  The best solution is to simply plan ahead and make sure you arrive in plenty of time to find parking, use the restroom, hit concessions, and pick up your ticket.

Second, and another important point:  TURN OFF YOUR CELL PHONE!  Taking a call during a show is one of the rudest and most disrespectful things you can do in live theater. Not only does it show a total lack of respect for the patrons around you, but it also shows a disdain and disrespect for the actors on stage.  Texts are no less rude.  The noise and light of a cell phone is distracting to the show for both the audience and performers.  And filming or photographing is also right out.  Theaters and production companies sign contracts when the license show rights and these usually include a stipulation to not record the show.  Even for marketing purposes, the rights to record even small sections are severely restricted.  So not only is it distracting to other audience members and the cast of the show, it is also very likely illegal. Not to mention that it could be considered intellectual theft. (http://www.playbill.com/article/ask-playbillcom-why-cant-i-take-photos-in-a-broadway-theatre-com-180456 )  Some theaters are relaxing their pre-and post-show photography rules, but even then it is not okay to take pictures during the show.  There have been instances in live theater where an actor has stopped the show to call-out a cell phone user.  (http://people.com/celebrity/kevin-spacey-in-character-stops-show-to-scold-audience-member-for-ringing-cell-phone/     http://people.com/theater/glenn-close-stops-sunset-boulevard-photo/ ) I would say that is an inappropriate response, but day after day of audience disrespect can wear on an actor and sometimes enough is enough.)  Suffice it to say:  Don't be that person.  Turn off your cell phone.

UNWRAP YOUR COUGH DROPS BEFORE THE SHOW.  Unwrapping cough drops or candy is surprising loud when everyone around you is being quiet.  Paper crinkling is an unwelcome distraction.

Along the same lines is: DON'T TALK ONCE THE PERFORMANCE HAS STARTED.  The only noise in the theater should be coming from the stage (or speakers) as part of the show.  Talking, unwrapping candy, squeezing your plastic water bottle...all of these things are distracting to the patrons around you and to the actors on stage.  And along with don't talk; DON'T HUM OR SING ALONG WITH THE ACTORS unless they have asked you to.  People around you paid good money to hear the actors perform. Buy the soundtrack and sing along in the car.  In the theater it is just rude.

REMEMBER THAT THERE ARE PEOPLE BEHIND YOU.  Leaning together and cuddling or wearing a large hat, or not sitting correctly in your seat blocks the view of the stage for the people behind you.  Please remember to be courteous to other patrons; they want to see the show too.

I can't say I thought I would ever have to actually say this one, but based on actual experience, I must.  DO NOT TAKE YOUR SHOES OFF IN THE THEATER.  This is not your living room and removing your shoes is inappropriate and potentially offensive.

Theater etiquette basically comes down to common courtesy and common sense. If you take a moment to think about it, you won't have any trouble. Theater is a shared experience and a good audience member will do what they can to be a positive part of theater experience for themselves and everyone else.

Theater Etiquette Part 2: Children and live theater? YES!

Live theater can be a magical and memorable experience for children of all ages. It truly is one of life's greatest cultural treasures.  When the experience is done well, it can create a lasting joy and appreciation for theater for the rest of their lives.  Done poorly, it can be a disaster for everyone:  the child, the rest of the party, and the other patrons.  What makes the difference?  Preparation and education.  Below are some guidelines for bringing children to the theater.

1. Show selection is the foundation on which everything else is built.  If you bring a child to a show that they won't enjoy or understand then it will be impossible to keep them engaged in the production.  Not all shows are a good fit for children; including musicals.  Make sure you have selected a show that will be of interest.  Shows designed for children (like Broadway Jr. shows or ones based on children's books like Charlotte's Web) are a good starting spot.  And remember, just because a musical is a classic, doesn't mean it doesn't have adult content.  Even The Sound of Music has Nazis!  Everyone is different, but typically:  Toddlers through the age of 4 do well with short productions (>40 minutes) with a lot of audience participation.  Pre-schoolers, ages 4-5 can handle longer shows (50-75 minutes) as long as the material is interesting to them.  Another plus to choosing a show designed for children is that the actors expect a certain amount of fidgeting, as that's part and parcel of childhood!

2. Get your tickets for seats near the aisle, if possible.  That way if it turns out that it just isn't a sit quietly kind of day (and don't we all have those?), you'll be able to take your child out to the lobby for a break.  The House Manager will be probably be able to help you rejoin the show later.

3. Speaking of tickets, ALL patrons require a ticket no matter their age or if you expect them to sit on your lap.  (And please remember that having a child sit on your lap can block the view of the person behind you.)

4.  Make sure children use the restroom before the show. Remember:  their bladders are smaller than yours!

5. Go over general theater etiquette with your kiddoes before they arrive at the theater.

  • They will be expected to be quiet, sit still in their own chair and not disturb others around them
  • They should not put their feet on the seats or kick the seat in front of them
  • They should not stand during the performance
  • They cannot eat in the theater
6.  It is also helpful to let them know what to expect from a show:
  • Theater lights will dim at the beginning of the show and it may get quite dark
  • Sometimes there a sudden, loud noises in a show
  • Sometimes the audience claps during a show (after a song or at the end of a scene)
  • Let them know if there will be an intermission and that you will be watching a second part after a short break
  • Everyone can join in to clap and show appreciation for the actors at the end of the show!
7. And tell them a bit about the plot of the show so they know in advance who the characters are and the generalities of what will happen in the show.

8. Remind them that the actors are real people just like them.  They may be wearing a mask or makeup, but underneath they are a real person!

The memories created by a live theater experience will last a lifetime. It can be a life-changing event and a wonderful experience for anyone of nearly any age.  (An exception may be babes-in-arms because there is not way to prepare them or explain what is going on.  Loud noises and changing lights can startle an infant and cause distress that  results in fear and/or startled crying.  For the benefit of everyone - including the infant! - we do discourage you from bringing babies to a live theater production.)

With a little bit of preparation, live theater can be an exciting part of any child's life!