I’m not a confrontational kind of guy. Well, not anymore. When I was a decade or so younger, I was a bit more bellicose, but, these days, I have learned enough in life to try to see conflicts around the corner and move away from them or I try to find the underlying reasons for behavior and have empathy for that instead of getting pissed off at the end result.
However, all that flies out the window lately, when I am confronted with how rude some people are when they are in attendance at the theatre. It seems to me that with the advent of what I like to call the “individualized world” we have, a collective sense of manners has been relegated to the sidelines. I’m not resigned to it. In fact, I’m pushing back against it. There’s no real way to finesse talking about deplorable public behavior, so, in my gift for words, I’ll try to make it as palatable as possible.
1. Stop talking. No, I mean, really. Stop talking. Once the lights go down and the curtain goes up, unless you’re making a brief remark about the show to your date or the person sitting next to you about something noteworthy happening on stage, why don’t you wait until intermission or after the show to have a complete ongoing conversation with someone? While I was attending Bug at Teatro Zuccone, a trio of girls sitting behind me kept up a running whispering conversation about their friends, where they were going after the show, how long the show was, and about each other. No. Don’t. Just stop talking. Now.
2. You’re not the narrator or the color commentator, so just sit back and enjoy the show. The theater space isn’t your living room or bedroom and you’re not sitting in front of the TV. Shh. Let others around you enjoy the show without your stream of utterances. I was at the Guthrie this past May to see Arsenic and Old Lace and a woman in the row in front of me kept up her commentary as if the production were a reality TV show. ”Oh yeah, she’s gonna get it now!” and “No! Don’t look in there!” You know, that kind of stuff might have been appropriate for the groundlings at the Globe back in the day, but not now. Not ever. This is the best time to perfect the art of the internal monologue.
3. Hold your liquor. Or any other beverage you bring into the theater. That means, put it in the cup holder provided or keep it in your hands until intermission or until the house lights go up again. You decided to bring a drink into the theater, so you’re just going to have to hold it. At just about every show I’ve been to at the Playhouse, someone has set down a can or a bottle under their seat only to have it end up rolling down under a couple of rows of seats in front of them. No, that’s not part of the sound design of the show we’re all trying to enjoy. So, stop it. Thanks.
4. No matter how much you love what’s happening on stage, once your child starts crying, it’s time to walk out of the theater. Sorry if you think I’m being insensitive with this, but if I had children of crying age, I would not bring them to see a show. In this day and age, if you say anything to anybody about their children’s behavior, suddenly you’re a horrible, insensitive villain for not “understanding” kids. Well, parenting skills aside, if I’m in the theater to see a show, I don’t want to hear children crying or having fits and neither do the actors on stage. It’s distracting and rude. There’s a certain reality to parenthood. So, get up and kindly and quietly and quickly walk out of the theater the minute it starts or threaten your toddler in the car beforehand with bodily harm if he or she opens his or her mouth, old-school style. But, usually, there’s a more humane remedy that both you and your child will enjoy. It’s called a babysitter. You’re welcome.
5. Don’t show up late and walk in front of everybody and God to get to your seat. In my world, early is “on-time” and on-time is “late.” If you’re going to the theater and there’s a 7:30 curtain, be in the lobby with your ticket at 7:15. That means, leave the house early to account for traffic and parking time. If you, for some unknown reason, have not called the box office hours ahead for a ticket if you don’t already have one and you walk in expecting to purchase one, give yourself an extra 10-15 minutes for that, in addition. There will be a line. And you’re going to be late if you walk in at 7:20 hoping to get a ticket. I have never, ever, EVER walked into a show late and the ONE time, years ago, that I arrived two minutes after curtain, I was so embarrassed at the prospect of walking in and going down to my seat that I just decided not to go and I went back home. It’s distracting for the actors, rude to the director, and an abomination to the audience for everyone to start enjoying the show and getting into the action when you and your guest come tromping down the aisle with your coats and your mumbled “excuse me” (if you even bother with that) to get to your seat, blocking everyone’s view in your immediate vicinity, and enduring your time to get situated, get your coats slung over the backs of your chairs, and et cetera. Leave home or the restaurant early. Arrive at the theater early. Have a good time. And welcome to time management for the arts!
6. Turn off your phone. No, seriously. Turn it off. That doesn’t mean set it on “silent” so you can look at it every five minutes to see if you’ve gotten a call or a text. And turn it off so you can’t use it as a flash light to look at your program. If you can’t go an hour–the usual time before a show’s intermission, or two hours–the usual time of an entire show, without checking your phone when you’re at a cultural event like the theatre, then don’t go. You’re not ready. We’re not going to judge you for realizing you’re not ready for an outing like the theatre because your boyfriend or girlfriend or BFF wants to know what you’re doing or wants to tell you something entirely unimportant that cannot possibly wait an hour. Really. In fact, I’d like to give you a crisp $20 bill as a reward for good behavior. Turn. Off. Your. Phone. You know what I’ve discovered? When I turn my phone back on again at intermission or when I’m leaving the theater, any texts that were sent my way appear for me to read! Rest easy, social butterfly. When I was at The Sound of Music this past week, the woman sitting to my left used her phone the entire time as a flash light so she could read her program. I wanted to tell her that what was happening on stage was MUCH more interesting than anything they wrote in the program. And the woman sitting in the row behind me let her phone ring and actually answered it while sitting in her seat. As if that weren’t appalling enough, after intermission, she left her phone on and it beeped whenever she got a text. Sadly, for her, the director of the show happened to sit himself next to her during the second act and told her sternly, “Turn off your phone. I’m the director of this show.”
I’m sure there are more offenses that everyone could talk about all night, but those are my top six. When you go out to see a show, it’s an event. There’s a certain level of expectation about our behavior as individuals and as a group of people in a space. Rules may seem inconvenient for the noncomformist, but also realize that there are actors on stage and they’ve spent weeks memorizing lines and blocking and choreography and what props to pick up when and where to stand in their light and when to start singing, and so on. Rude audience behavior can distract them on stage, too. They’ve worked hard and the audience has worked hard all week, too, and they want a couple of hours of entertainment. And above all, treat yourself to those couple of hours, too. Disconnect but engage. See you at the show.