What to know about theatre etiquette before seeing a show
Learn the dos and don'ts of seeing a show that make the experience the most enjoyable for everyone there.
Going to the theatre can be a thrilling experience for first-timers, but even veteran audience members might need a reminder of the dos and don’ts. Here, we’ll pull back the curtain on proper theatre etiquette and share a few insider secrets.
Arrive on time.
Unlike on-demand entertainment, plays and musicals have an unmovable start time. If you’re late, you will have to wait until an appropriate break in the action — or even intermission — to take your seat. If the show is a one act, you might end up missing it altogether! Double-check the performance’s start time online or on your confirmation email, and try to arrive within plenty of time. Most Broadway houses open their doors approximately 30 minutes before show time.
Don’t bring baggage.
Modern theatres might be a little more comfortable, but older venues are often tight on space. Leave large bags at home or at your hotel and be aware that many theatres will not let you bring in suitcases for security reasons. If you have a bulky coat, take advantage of the coat check — though be prepared to wait in line to retrieve it after the show. If you want to bring your coat in with you, keep it in your lap or under your seat. Don’t hang it off the back of your chair, as it may interfere with other audience members’ space.
Use the restroom wisely.
Remember how we said theatres could be cramped? That goes double for their restrooms, of which there are usually not many. Try to take care of business prior to arriving at the theatre or get it out of the way before the show begins. Trust us: You don’t want to wait in that long intermission line or climb over your seatmates during the show.
Turn off your phone.
It’s tempting to share this exciting experience with friends and family who couldn’t join you, and many theatres will encourage you to check in or post about their show on social media. But always do so when the performance isn’t actually happening. Texting, answering or making calls, and even checking the time on your phone is incredibly distracting to everyone else in the theatre, as well as the performers onstage. Yes, they can see and hear you too! To be safe from unexpected calls, forgotten alarms, and repetitive buzzing, turn your phone completely off before the show starts.
Don’t take pictures.
Not only does a bright flash ruin the action (and even the glowing screen while you line up a shot is a harsh interruption in a dark theatre), but photographing or recording a professional production is illegal. If you try it, you will be ejected from the theatre and asked to delete the files or even surrender your device. It’s better to just keep your phone, dark, silent, and out of sight. If you're allowed to photograph or record a part of a show (such as an encore number), an announcement will be made.
Enjoy your snacks quietly.
Many theatres have become more lenient about bringing concessions to your seat, but remember that all that packaging crinkles, crackles, and crunches. Try to nibble with as little disturbance as possible (that goes for mints and cough drops, too), and do not bring in outside food. Unless you’re specifically attending a dinner theatre production, this is not the time to eat a full meal. Check out our guide on where to eat and drink before and after a show so you’ll have less need for snacks during the show.
Leave the action onstage.
Maybe the lead actor is singing your favorite song, or you missed the line that had the rest of the audience gasping. Resist the urge to sing along or ask your neighbor what happened. Theatres are intimate spaces, and even the smallest disturbance can ruin the magical mood that the cast and crew have worked so hard to set.
That said, audibly reacting to a show (like gasping at a plot twist or laughing at a joke) is within the bounds of theatre etiquette, within reason. You're absolutely encouraged to respond — it's a sign to the performers that the show is engaging — as long as you're not consistently drowning out the onstage dialogue when the rest of the audience is silent.
Visit the stage door.
One of the best parts about live theatre is being able to tell the actors how much you enjoyed their performances. You can even politely ask them to sign your playbill or pose for a picture. If you’re not sure where the stage door is located, an usher will be happy to direct you. Theatres will often set up barriers on the sidewalk to ensure their cast and crew is able to leave the stage door safely, and if there are celebrities in your show, then it might be extra crowded. Remain patient and polite, do not cross the barriers, and respect everyone else’s experience.