Theatre etiquette has become significantly worse over the past few years

Unit 1d of Arts Award Gold - Form and communicate an argument on an Arts Issue

Theatre etiquette is a set of rules stating the expected behaviour from members of an audience. While there is no definitive list of expectations, there are many that are regarded most important when watching a live performance. Theatre etiquette is very important, as it is what allows members of the audience to have an enjoyable experience to the theatre, especially after sometimes planning trips and paying high prices for such a unique experience. Poor behaviour makes these experiences less enjoyable and cause major disruptions to the show.

Mobile phone use is one of the biggest concerns when it comes to theatre etiquette. It is widely accepted that during a performance, phones are to be put on silent and/or switched of an put away not to be used at any point during the show. However, as the use of mobile phones becomes greater in the modern world, there are more and more cases of mobile phone use during performances. The use of a mobile phone distracts other members of the audience as it draws the attention from the actors and stage, of whom have worked hard to put the show together, so someone instead choosing the pay attention to their phone could be seen as being disrespectful to cast and crew. 

The rule of phones switched off and put away is also to make sure that photos and videos are not taking of the performance. This is asked of audience members for a very specific and serious reason, as there are many copyrighted aspects of the shows that for legal reasons cannot be photographed or filmed. However, this has not discourages audience members, as many still choose to record parts of the show. Some shows such as 'Six the Musical' encourage videos to be taken during the final song of the show, which is made explicitly told by members of the cast. However this may have lead to a misunderstanding that it is acceptable to film during the final song in any show, in which case is not true.

Another expectation of the audience is to remain silent during a performance. This is so other members of the audience as well as sometimes performers are not distracted while the show is in progress. In recent years, it has become more noticeable while in a theatre setting that people are talking during a performance, often very loud and disregarding the rest of the audience. Some also feel it is acceptable to share their opinions, both positive and negative of a performance while still in the auditorium. This however runs the risk of someone involved in the show overhearing who may not want to hear negative things about the performance they're involved in. 

There are some cases where these expectations do not always apply. As mentioned earlier, some shows allow audience members to record during certain parts of the show, which will be specified by members of the cast. Pantomimes are another example where theatre etiquette is not the same. Audience interaction is strongly encouraged during a pantomime, and often makes up for large portions of the performance. This means that talking amongst the audience is more common that not, most of the time prompted by a member of the cast, but silence is not as necessary as other types of performances.

There is no clear reason as to why theatre etiquette has taken such a dive in recent years, but the theatre in general has become more accessible to a wider range of people, which means that there are more people who are unfamiliar with the concept of theatre and how they expected to behave, meaning they are not as aware of the rules they have to follow. The attendance of children has become more common as well, of whom may not be able to remain silent and/or sit still for the duration of entire performances, which could be a cause for distraction for other members of the audience.

Ways in which theatre etiquette can be improved upon could be via a definitive list of the most important things to remember when visiting the theatre, which could be displayed in all theatres so is seen by most theatregoers. The concern of misbehaving children can be tackled by educating children early on how to behave in a theatre, as these teaching will stick with the children as they grow. Making sure staff who work in the theatre know how the audience should behave will mean they will find it easier to enforce proper etiquette as they will know what to be looking for in an audience. Lastly, the condition and environment of the theatre may play into people behaviour, as explained by the broken window theory. A theatre that is well kept and tidy may cause people to react in a more positive manner.

In conclusion, theatre etiquette is vital when someone is taking a trip to the theatre. The decline in audience behaviour and attitudes could be akin to how theatre has become more accessible to wider demographic of people, of all ages, financial situation, and backgrounds. Poor behaviour needs to be picked up on more and enforced more strictly by theatre staff to make sure the theatre can be an enjoyable experience for everyone who attends, as well as being respectful to those who work hard to put on such performances.

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Melissa Coyne

Melissa Coyne

We are MAPA - The Malton School Academy of Performing Arts. We provide training and education in all aspects of performing arts from GCSE to A Level/CTEC. Based in Malton North Yorkshire we support students to access and complete their Arts Award Gold alongside other studies of Performing and Creative Arts.

We need your help supporting young creatives


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