Theater etiquette tips

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There’s no better time to see a play than in the summer. The Twin Cities offers some of the best and most diverse productions in the country.

The history of theater season is quite fascinating and extensive. Dress codes may be more relaxed and casual now, but manners still matter. There are still codes of conduct and behavioral expectations — what I refer to as theater etiquette — when attending a live theatrical performance.

Why all of the muss and fuss over theater etiquette? Well, your actions, behaviors, and reactions could be distracting to the performers and could ruin the experience for other patrons, as well. Unlike a recorded performance in a movie, a live theater cannot be repeated. Although there may be many repeat viewings of a production, each live performance will be different and cannot be duplicated.

I’m sure that you want to take in all that you envisioned a play would be — every nuance of the production — so that it lives in your memory as one of the best experiences ever. For me, that experience was The Lion King. And, I would not have wanted that theater experience ruined because of paper rattling, gum smacking or cell phones going off, etc.

If you plan to attend such a performance, I encourage you to know before you go. I spoke with several performance theater staff persons around the country, and below are my top tips on theater etiquette. These tips should put you at ease so that you can truly sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Theater etiquette tips

Before you go:

  • Learn about the performance, venue, and dress code ahead of time.                                                       
  • Plan a timely arrival (30-40 minutes before the show) begins.

Before entering the seating area:

  • Finish food or drink (unless the theater allows drinks inside the house).
  • Use the restroom.      
  • Have your ticket available.

Inside the seating area/during the play:

  • Please be quiet. Do not yell at or distract actors.
  • Turn off cell phones and recording devices.
  • Limit excessive movement or walking.        
  • No eating or smacking gum.

After the play:

Show appreciation for the performers:         

  • Clap.
  • Cheer (Bravo!).                                             
  • Standing ovation: stand and clap.
  • Exit in a patient and orderly fashion.

To make sure you know-before-you-go to see your next play, check the theater’s website for its specific theater etiquette guidelines and rules. Many theaters, such as the Guthrie in Minneapolis, provide patrons with such a list. The guidelines can be quite extensive, covering general rules and even laws. Laws are elements of etiquette that, if not adhered to, could result not only in expulsion from the performance but legal action as well.

Here are samples of some items that are prohibited:

1.               Weapons of any kind

2.               Fireworks

3.               Illegal drugs

4.               Outside food and beverages (be prepared to give them up and/or leave the performance with no refund). 

The main thing to keep in mind is that as a patron/guest, you should not do anything that will detract from anyone’s enjoyment of the performance. You want to follow the established safety guidelines so that you and others are comfortable and safe.

The Twin Cities are now lauded as a mecca for theater. Why go to New York or Chicago when you can enjoy high-quality performances right here in the Twin Cities? Enjoy the theater season, just be mindful of your etiquette so that others around you can enjoy it, too.

3 Comments on “Theater etiquette tips”

  1. Your tips are so logical and obvious to those of us who love live theater. However, most good manners are pretty logical. Thanks for putting them together in an organized, thoughtful way.

  2. Your tips are so needed in this climate of social media. My daughter and I learned so much about table etiquette that will be so valuable in any setting. Good manners are needed even more today than ever. You made it clear.

  3. This piece is a great reminder to always be prepared and to learn about events before attending. Some things may seem obvious, but it’s the little things that count and are easiest to forget.

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