Column: The three cardinal sins of attending the theatre

Alice King 13 November 2017

People tend to think of the theatre as being ‘fancy’ or, at the very least, ‘nice’. They dress up, pay a lot of money for a ticket, and generally appreciate the novelty of watching a live production. So, why is it so hard for some people to display basic manners in the theatre? In case any such people are reading, I’d like to lay out the most offensive sins that occur regularly enough for me to have to write this PSA.

1. Talking. I really don't want to think about how many moments of shows I have missed or muscles I have strained in my neck from turning and glaring at people talking in the theatre. How could anyone possibly genuinely believe that what they have to say is of more value than the show they’re watching. I am all for commenting on actors, or scenes, or sharing an inside joke with a friend, but after the show. The most baffling is when people don’t even think to whisper, they just go full outside voice in a quiet auditorium of thousands of other people. Just so you know, we can all hear you and everyone hates you. If people won’t stop talking, I won’t stop turning and judging.

2. Filming. Despite the so-obvious-it’s-actually-annoying announcement before almost any given show, some people actually still think, ‘yes, I’d rather watch this later in awful quality on my small phone screen than now,’ and whip out their phone to record. Why, when you’ve paid to actually be there, would you put up a barrier between yourself and the performance? For posterity? Why begin to pretend that the likelihood of you choosing to watch your illegal recording at a later date exceeds the enjoyment available from taking in the live performance in front of you? Certain actors are known for their confrontations with audience members who can’t keep it in their pockets. Patti LuPone has famously stopped shows to not only berate but physically evict audience members who are filming her performances. Ben Platt, Broadway’s current sweetheart, has also expressed his contempt towards theatregoers using their phones in the theatre, be it to film something they’ve paid hundreds of dollars to watch live, or just letting their phone ring. As annoying as the announcements are, there is no doubt that the phone ban in theatres is a blessing in disguise. The theatre is one of the last places in the world, and especially in culture, where we’re not transfixed by a screen. Embrace it.

3. Singing along. If you want an immersive experience of hell, go to a musical and sit in front of people who not only know all the words, but who just physically can’t restrain themselves from singing along. Warning: extremely high risk level when attending a jukebox musical (for any non-musical theatre fans, that means one featuring pop music, like Mamma Mia! or Jersey Boys). There are multiple reasons why singing in the theatre should warrant capital punishment. Firstly, if you can’t distinguish between the experience of sitting in your room or your car singing along to Carole King’s Tapestry, and sitting in an auditorium watching musical theatre legend Jessie Mueller performing as Carole King in a scripted scene, frankly you don’t deserve to go to the theatre. Secondly, the chances of someone in the audience being better at singing the material than the trained professionals on stage are slimmer than the ushers ever reprimanding the indulgent sing-a-longers. Which never happens. Because they’re enablers of evil.

Hopefully this will help anyone who was on the fence about sitting and enjoying a show, and talking through it whilst recording it for their friends! It should also serve as a guideline for when it is acceptable to pointedly turn and glare at someone. Happy theatregoing!