by Valencia E. Matthews, Ph.D.
Patrons and attendees alike often wonder, “What is the role of the audience at a live performance?” and are at a loss to find clear answers. First and foremost, it is essential to understand that live cultural performances depend upon the audience’s synergy with the performers. The audience is in fact a part of the performance. One does not exist without the other. Therefore, it is important for audiences to understand their role in setting, and enforcing, the proper standard for appropriate etiquette when attending live cultural performances.
VALENCIA E. MATTHEWS, PH.D.
Naturally, it is the hope that everyone who attends a live performance will either be exhilarated or at least minimally satisfied. Appropriate etiquette at a cultural event will vary widely from one place to another and culture to culture as well as by the nature of the production. However, certain rules are generally universal and common courtesies are (for the most part) obvious, but it never hurts to remind veterans and novices alike of the following do’s and don’ts.
Do Arrive early: Many of us in the arts believe as follows – To be early is to be on time, and to be on time is to be late. Plan to arrive early enough to park, pick up your tickets at will call and be seated at least ten minutes before the show begins. This allows you the opportunity to absorb the ambiance of the setting and prepare yourself mentally for the performance. The advertised time is the actual start time. It is not the movies with fifteen minutes of previews. Entering late is a distraction to other audience members, and the performers.
Do Turn off all electronic devices: Commit to the performance by leaving your cell phone (and any other electronic device – iPads, beeping watches, etc.) at home or in the car. If that is not an option, at least turn the cell phone off or place it on vibrate. If you must take an emergency call, leave the auditorium and begin your conversation once you have exited. Using electronic devices is a distraction to other audience members and the performers, and is the height of disrespect at a shared event.
Do not record or take photographs: Usually photography, recordings by video, cameras or any other image capturing system is prohibited and illegal. Flash photography is also dangerous to the actors. Recordings and taking photographs is a distraction to other audience members and the performers.
Do come early and remain seated: Please do not enter or leave the auditorium during a performance unless it is an emergency. The theatre reserves the right to seat latecomers, or individuals who exit during the performance, at an appropriate break in the action or during intermission. As with many other don’ts, latecomers are a serious distraction to other audience members and the performers.
Do not make noise: Candy and/or cough drop wrappers make a lot of noise, whether they are unwrapped quickly or slowly. If you think that you might need one, keep a supply that is already unwrapped.
We love babies, but crying, fussy children should not be in the theatre. Management reserves the right to have parents remove babies from the theatre. If you must bring a baby, request a seat close to the door so that you can exit quickly should the baby become fussy. Crying babies are a distraction to other audience members, and the performers.
It is always good to remember that your fellow audience members came to experience this live performance and your respect for them along with the event should be paramount. If, for whatever reason, you find that you are not interested in the performance, please do not engage in inconsiderate behavior such as talking, eating, texting, or tweeting. Please be courteous and considerate of other audience members and the performers.
Please, by all means –
Do laugh at the appropriate places, do applaud as appropriate and do spread the word to your friends about what a great experience you had.
For me, there is nothing like the magic of a live performance. One simply never knows what might happen, or how the audience might be elevated, transformed or otherwise entertained. I therefore invite you to help uphold and enforce the standards of proper etiquette at your next live performance.
(Valencia Matthews, Ph.D. is the interim dean of the College of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts at Florida A&M University. She also is the director of the FAMU Essential Theatre, which produces classical to contemporary performances for all ages. Follow @FAMU_LivingWell.)