Theater 101

In the early 20th century, people seemed to have a lot more respect for entertainment. They would dress in their Sunday best to ride an airplane, to go to the movies and, of course, to go to the theater. These activities were seen as sacred occasions for formal wear.

Their actions showed respect, too. Back then, no one would think of talking during a performance, and if cell phones had been around, they probably would have left them at home.Today, people are encouraged to wear pajamas on a long flight to be more comfortable, and going to the movies is as common as ordering pizza. It seems the theater is the last remaining sacred event – but even that is quickly changing.

The theater deserves respect. Performers practice for months to put on a live show night after night in front of hundreds of audience members, and tickets can cost hundreds of dollars. However, it seems patrons have forgotten this, so I’ve taken it upon myself to remind them. Thus, here is a list of rules for how to behave while at the theater:

1. Dress up. Do not wear jeans and flip flops to a Tony award-winning show – this is the ultimate sign of disrespect. At the very least, wear khakis or dark dress jeans with dress shoes and a polo shirt or nice top. A lot of effort has gone into putting on this show, so the least you can do is take some time to look appropriate.

2. For the love of God, turn off the cell phone. The most embarrassing and inappropriate thing that can happen during a play is if your cell phone goes off and the whole theater turns toward you. More importantly, it can disrupt the actors’ train of thought and cause them to mess up their lines, thus affecting the performance. All because you forgot to change your phone to silent.

3. Mature audiences only. Be wary of bringing children to the theater. For some performances, such as Cats or The Lion King, it’s appropriate to bring children. However, most of the time it’s best to call a babysitter. If you do decide to bring a child, make sure to explain to them how to behave before leaving the house, and try to get tickets for seats close to the door for a quick and quiet exit if needed.

4. Don’t talk. Do not discuss your thoughts about what’s happening on stage to your neighbor; that’s why there’s an intermission. People paid a lot of money for their seats and do not want to be interrupted by your voice – save your critique for later.

5. Don’t sing along. Most plays are musicals, and many classical musicals have large fan bases that have seen the show multiple times and know the songs by heart. However, please refrain from singing out loud until you get in the car. Leave the Broadway performing to the actors; that’s what they’re getting paid for.

These may seem like simple rules, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t follow them. Just recently I attended a showing of Rent at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and saw multiple offenders, such as the woman sitting next to me who wouldn’t stop talking to her younger daughter. Please, let’s remember what a special event it is to go to the theater, and don’t ruin it for everyone else.