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How to Not be an Asshat When Seeing a Live Theater Performance

I see a lot of theater. More than the average person, true. It’s what I like to do. Some people go to the movies a lot. Some people are sports fans. I like to sit in a dark room and watch people pretend to be someone else for my entertainment for 2-3 hours, preferably once a week or so.

As a huge theater fan(atic), I’ve seen a lot of audience members come and go. As such, I think I’m qualified to give some tips on how to behave oneself when going to the theater to see a performance.

No, I’m not being a huge theater snob, so don’t get all uppity and “who the hell does she think she IS and how DARE SHE” and such. Bite me, Bertha. Read on and I’m pretty sure you’ll get that every one of these? IS TOTALLY COMMON SENSE. But since a lot of people don’t seem to be following them, I thought maybe a refresher was in order.

YOU ONLY PAID FOR ONE SEAT; COLOR WITHIN THE LINES, PLEASE

Your ticket price was, on average, probably anywhere from $5-$50, if you live in my area. Obviously if you live in, say, New York City, your ticket price probably was a little heftier, and you might not be able to pay your rent this month. Your ticket price – for a single ticket – gives you the right to A SINGLE SEAT. You can also, for this price, use the bathroom, and possibly hang your coat up, depending on the theater. Your SINGLE TICKET PRICE does NOT give you the right, or permission, to take up air and body space of the people on your left and right.

I, personally, attempt to buy tickets in the front row on the aisle. There are two reasons for this: one, no fighting over the armrest on one side and more room if I want to stretch out a little in the front and on that side and/or get away from the person on my other side; and two, easier escape route if there is a fire and/or hostage situation. (You think I’m being facetious, but I really don’t like being trapped in case of emergency. I’m pretty sure I have some sort of past-life-regression PTSD.) You, too, could ALSO buy an aisle/front row seat! There are a number of them and theaters are HAPPY to oblige should you ask! No? OK, fine. Then how about DON’T slop over, lean on me, take over not only my armrest but part of my seat with your arm, upper body, coat, purse, program, water bottle, etc.? I DON’T KNOW YOU AND STOP TOUCHING ME. You didn’t pay for my seat. I paid for my seat. Do you want to reimburse me for the ¼ of my seat you’re taking up? Also you smell like old people. I smell delicious. I don’t want to smell you for the next three hours. Why would you assume that I would? That’s presumptuous and I want to shove you back into your designated slot.

It is only polite, since you paid for ONE SEAT, to sit within the confines of that one seat, with the caveat of if you are on the aisle or in the front row, you can stretch out a little on the aisle side or in front, provided there’s not a warning in the curtain speech that says to keep the aisles clear because actors will be walking in them.

I went to a play yesterday where the woman next to me decided she apparently had paid for TWO seats and me being next to her was an inconvenience so she immediately sprawled all over me. Since I was on the aisle and the seats were folding chairs, I moved my seat four inches to the left. Not far enough that if someone had to walk by I was blocking anything (it was a wide aisle) but far enough that she stopped touching me. She did immediately take up those four inches of space I created between our seats, though, as if it was owed to her. I wonder how much she paid for her seat? Because I’m pretty sure we paid the same amount, and I was politely sitting in the space allotted (until she stole some of it.)

THIS ISN’T A MOVIE THEATER. THOSE ARE LIVE PEOPLE. TRY TO BEHAVE ACCORDINGLY, CHUCKLES.

I know that in a movie theater, it’s become de rigueur to text, talk, bring in a smelly three-course meal and consume it smackily, kick the seats, and generally just douchecanoe it up all over the place. That’s why I very seldom go to the movies anymore; it’s less painful to watch movies in my own living room, even if I’m not getting the entire movie-theater big-screen experience. However painful this is for the other movie-goers, at least the people on the screen can’t hear you and aren’t thrown off their game by you acting as if you own the theater and it’s ok that you act like you would in your own home.

In live theater – please re-read those three words, LIVE theater – the actors aren’t on a screen. They’re LIVE. They’re standing there in front of you acting. They don’t have cue cards; they’ve memorized (hopefully) their lines. They also can see and hear you. So when you’re talking loudly in the audience? Yep, the actors can hear you. When your phone rings? It throws them off and sometimes they stumble on the lines they’ve worked so hard to memorize. It’s something that can throw off even the most consummate professional. And it’s rude as hell.

As someone who works in theater, I can tell you from experience that we talk about you people backstage. We even have mean nicknames for the most egregious repeat offenders. Do you want to be known as “Talky Doctor” or “Popcorn Lady” (who actually brought a backpack with a bag of microwave popcorn into the theater one night and ripped it open and ate it crunchily while talking on her cell?) Well, only you can answer that question. I’m going to hope the answer is no. Please behave yourself. Actors put a lot of time and effort, most of the time unpaid, into their performance; the least you can do, having paid for a ticket, is to sit quietly for 2-3 hours. If you want to loudly rip it to shreds afterwards, that’s what the internet is for.

LET’S KEEP IT MOVING

This isn’t just a theater problem, it’s a life problem, but I notice it a lot in theater so I’m going to mention it here. You’re walking into a theater. There’s a long line of people waiting to enter and it’s a single-file line; no one’s able to go around you. The show starts in about ten minutes. You see something – a poster for a play past, a bulletin board with announcements for upcoming shows; headshots of the actors – and you STOP DEAD IN THE LINE TO PERUSE IT. Well! What’s wrong with this scenario? Oh, I don’t know, other than NO ONE CAN MOVE NOW. Listen, there are better ways to do this. You can get out of line and look at this totally engrossing thing; you can wait until intermission and look at it then; you can stay after the show and really give it your full attention; you can get to the theater early to look over every bit of ephemera hanging on the walls, I don’t give two shits. Just KEEP WALKING. Because the people in back of you don’t want to be stuck in line while you tell Myrtle about every single person on the headshot board. “Oh! I saw HIM last year in Pippin, and HIM last year in Les Miserables, and HER I don’t know, and HER, she’s my doctor’s niece…” GREAT. That’s such TOTALLY INTERESTING INFORMATION GLADYS. As I’m TRAPPED BEHIND YOU, I also had to be informed of how you know EVERYONE IN THE CAST. MOVE, you dingbat.

A POLITE BIT OF THEATER TRIVIA

I’m only mentioning this because it seems a lot of people aren’t aware. At the end of intermission, the house manager or stage manager or some other employee of the theater will flicker the lights in the theater or lobby. This is your cue to take your seats, as intermission is about to end. Oh, what’s that? You ARE aware of this bit of theater trivia? THEN WHY DO YOU IGNORE IT COMPLETELY. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened and people look up in an annoyed and confused manner, as if they’re wondering why the electrical system is so wonky in the theater, and continue to talk or snack or whatever they’ve chosen to do at the intermission. And then, once you’ve gotten everyone seated, there’s always Kitten-Bladder McGillicutty who gets up and runs to the bathroom, as if he or she has forgotten ALL ABOUT this TOTALLY EMERGENT CALL OF NATURE UNTIL NOW, and then the curtain has to be held for another 3-5 minutes while we wait for this person to do something they should have done in the fifteen minutes or so that was JUST ALLOTTED for this purpose. I know this all ties into everyone thinks they’re the only person that matters in the world and it doesn’t even cross their mind that other people might be put out by their totally rude and self-serving behavior, but just stop it. You get fifteen minutes. By extending the intermission, you’ve got actors impatiently sweating it up inside hot costumes backstage, you’ve got audience members with the attention span of a toddler who are getting cranky as hell (I mean, I’ve HEARD you’ve got those, I don’t know ANYONE like THAT), you’ve got hospitality volunteers waiting for you to sit before they can finish cleaning up intermission things. You’ve totally thrown the timing and everyone else off their game. Get a watch and a clue. Barring that, buy yourself some Depends, because IT’S TIME TO START THIS MOTHER.

UNLESS YOU KNOW EVERYONE IN THE AUDIENCE, WATCH WHAT YOU SAY

Oh, you don’t like the lead actress’s performance? And you feel the need to loudly proclaim it, either (rudely) during the show, or at intermission, or after the show? Yeah, SURPRISE, that’s her MOTHER sitting in front of you. Feel like an asshole? You should. Keep your criticisms inside until you leave the building unless you’re 100% sure you know everyone around you and how they’re linked to everyone else both IN and WORKING ON the performance.

Side note: this actually happened to me. Luckily, in a more embarrassing way than rude one. I can’t be quiet? And I went to a show a few summers ago out of town with my mother, and this DROP-DEAD GORGEOUS man was in it. I mean, RAWR. I wanted to lick him like a mother cat. Good gracious. Also, he was just about the most talented thing I’d seen in years, and I was just twitterpated. So after the show, my mother asked what I thought, and I said “Well, I certainly wouldn’t kick Virgil (his character’s name) out of bed for any reason I can think of whatsoever. I want to ride him like a pony into the sunset.” And the woman and young man in front of me turned around and kind of laughed but also kind of grimaced, and I thought, hmm, that’s funny, that young man and Virgil look sort of similar, probably he thinks I want to ride HIM like a pony, but I do not since he’s probably all of 19 and that would just be icky. But then in the lobby afterward Virgil came out and hugged the woman and young man and they were HIS MOTHER AND BROTHER. So I was kind of the most embarrassed. However, I guess it could be worse. I mean, if I was in a play and my mom and brother came to watch and told me afterward that a super-intelligent playgoer with hipster glasses and a wry turn-of-phrase had wanted to ride me like a pony into the sunset, I mean, I’d probably be flattered. Maybe a pinch creeped out, but mostly flattered. OK, maybe more creeped out. I SAID I WAS EMBARRASSED WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM ME.

So there are some tips that will make YOU a more conscientious theater-goer and make EVERYONE ELSE AROUND YOU less apt to want to stab you with a juice-box straw in the jugular. I know, I know, everyone’s all, “I would NEVER do any of these!” Well, a lot of people do them, and if EVERYONE thinks they don’t do them, probably odds are good some of you are dirty liars. So STOP IT. Live theater is my happy place. It’s the one place I don’t want to punch everyone repeatedly in the kidneys. STOP TAKING MY HAPPY PLACE AWAY YOU NUMBNUTS.

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About lucysfootball

I'm not the girl with the most cake. Someday. SOMEDAY. View all posts by lucysfootball

3 responses to “How to Not be an Asshat When Seeing a Live Theater Performance

  • Rich Crete

    Don’t forget the cougher/throat clearer. Hack your phlegm up at home! If you get a tickle in your throat and it won’t go away, you go away.
    Even if it’s a well known musical, it is not ok to sing along.
    Babies are not welcome! (now if we could only make that a rule on planes)
    When your soda is almost done, put it down! If I hear that sucking up the last drop sound one more time I swear I’ll…
    Good topic and perfect use of the word asshat.

    Like

    • lucysfootball

      Nice! Agreed on all counts. I’m glad someone agrees that people like this are why we can’t have nice things! And theater is SO my nice thing, annoying humans who seem hell-bent on ruining it for me!

      Like

  • Rich Crete

    We’ll start it here and now: Occupy Asshats! Wait…ever notice that sometimes you get a really good idea then you write it down and it looks like a really, really bad idea? Never mind.

    Like

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