Good Manners in the House: Theatre Etiquette Part 2

Photo by Jason Cohn

When you get ready for your theatre experience, you are preparing for a journey. You may be walking through a site-specific performance like Quantum Theatre’s Chatterton, or you may expect to be seated through a show in a venue that may be too hot, too cold or even uncomfortable. Regardless, your preparation and expectation of the experience, the setting helps define not only your experience but that of other audience members.

In Part 1 of this series on theatre etiquette, we reviewed some basics. But even as we prepared this second installment, rules are changing in this region.

Stepped up security and early arrival:

By November 16, all three of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s main venues (The Benedum, The August Wilson Center, and the Byham Theatre) will have implemented both metal detectors and routine bag searches among entry. Be prepared by starting your habit of bringing less, not more, with you to performances for your convenience and that of your fellow theatergoers.

“We’re always excited about providing amazing experiences and performances in the arts, while at the same time, increasing our ability to reassure our guests they are well protected while with us,” Kevin C. Wilkes, Chief Security Officer of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust stated. “We’ve made sure our new systems utilize the most current and effective screening technology without interfering with the arts experience.”

The Trust stresses that new procedures were designed with audience convenience in mind, earlier arrival is now recommended. Plan to be at venues up to 45 minutes earlier now to be sure you are seated by curtain time. Perks: discounted drinks and concessions during a “Happy Half Hour” before each show. So getting to the venue provides not only time to meet and mingle with friends and fans but a chance to read the program and prepare for the show.

Note that many productions already limit late seating. Who wants to be watching a monitor in the lobby when you can be “in the room where it happens,” right?

About technology:

Technology has demanded that both audience members and organizations address the use of cell phones.

“Generation ‘C’–they have spent their entire childhood on their phones,” says Annabelle Clippinger, who head Pitt Arts at the University of Pittsburgh. “I think we are already ‘hybrids,’” she says, describing how live experiences are connected to our social channels and live events.

During one kind of performance, she says, “The Symphony encouraged all to use cell phones,” noting that organizations are considering how to use embrace technology.

What to do when the person besides is using their phone during a performance? “You don’t want to break the fourth wall by shaming an audience member,” Clippinger says.

This writer experienced Pippin on Broadway accompanied by the texting of the young woman beside me. She texted during her passionate engagement with the entire performance. I couldn’t bring myself to say a thing to her and introduce negative energy in our row. I was somewhat fascinated that she was thoroughly into the show while sharing the experience through texting. Of course, no usher chided her either while I felt I’d disrupt many if I said something. So I endured and considered how to deal with similar situations in the future.

Pitt Arts online guidelines that are helpful for audience members of all ages. Most organizations feature some information for audiences members to read BEFORE arriving. If you are going to a venue for the first time, take a few minutes to explore the details.

Ever younger audience members are learning about live performance experiences.

Anqwenique Wingfield is known as a singer heard in various setting around town. On the other side of performance, she is also education director for Pittsburgh Festival Opera, working with children as young as preschool ages. Her program emphasizes the basics of that experience to set kids up for a lifetime of enjoyment.

“For Opera Tots!  the age range is 3-5 years old, so I focus on specific vocabulary words for them to learn and remember for example Performer, Stager, Audience, Bravo,” Wingfield says. “They learn what each word means the responsibilities of the audience which for them are to watch and listen. We also teach them to clap and say ‘Bravo’ when the performers have finished to show our gratitude and appreciation.”

She admits, “We can drive home the old adages all we want, but phones aren’t going anywhere.” Personally, Wingfield feels producers and artists need to determine the role of technology in audience participation.

Her work as an arts leader in varied programming sets an example for variations in how audience take parts with their phones.

“For Groove Aesthetic performances,” says Wingfield of another program she both founded and directs, “I encourage audiences to document and post during the show, engaging the online platforms and hashtags while keeping their phones on silent, so you don’t get the noise interruption.”

At first experimental, the approach “has proven to be successful in that we get really cool photos/video and online engagement tends to last longer post-show,” she confirms.

Wingfield reminds that live streaming via channels like Facebook and Instagram provide other ways to experience events and broaden audience engagement for both those in attendance and those who missed the event. She suggests that it’s important to “make the live audience aware of this, they may be less likely to stream for long periods of time, rather just share the link.”

Exceptions apply:

There are times we happily break the rules. But just know and follow the rules. They are not meant to be broken.

Singing along? You can indeed sing along at some events–the PR may tell you that, or you’ll know when it’s cool at event’s from Rocky Horror Picture Show to some local Handel’s Messiah concerts which invite the audience to sing.

Stepping on the stage? At some events, you may be invited on stage after the show, like at Pittsburgh Music Ensemble at City Theatre, but not during City Theatre’s own season. With few exceptions, the stage is off limits for patrons. That applies to stepping on the stage floor if it’s on the same level as the seating. Just avoid the stage altogether, please.

When to applaud? That varies, too. Generally, you might not applaud between movements of a classical symphony, but you might applaud after every song in a concert of any kinds. However, rules are meant to be broken and “when to applaud” is shifting, too. It’s like navigating a fancy place setting: pay attention to what others do while responding enthusiastically to what moves you. And you always go crazy at the finale and curtain calls. The performers will have no problems with cheering, clapping, and more!

More about what to wear, food and drink, courtesy, and more in Part 1 of this series.

We would love your feedback, ideas, and horror stories about etiquette at performances. Tips? Tactics? Tic Tacs? We’d love to hear from you as we follow the changing scene of tech, tricks, and treats in the theatre!

Yvonne Hudson, a Pittsburgh-based writer, publicist, actor, and singer, joined PITR as a writer and adviser in February 2016. She began performing and writing during high school in Indiana, PA. The Point Park journalism grad credits her Globe editor for first assigning her to review a play. Yvonne is grateful to Dr. Attilio Favorini for master’s studies at Pitt Theatre Arts, work at Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival, and believing in her Shakespearean journey. When not working with nonprofits, this lifelong chorister sings with Calvary UM Church’s annual Messiah Choir. Having played Juliet’s Nurse for Pittsburgh Shakespeare in the Parks, Yvonne is now seen in her solo shows, Mrs. Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson: The Poet Lights the Lamp. Goals: See all of Shakespeare’s plays in production and memorize more Sonnets. Fave quotes: “Good deed in a naughty world,” “Attention must be paid,” and “A handbag?” Twitter @msshakespeare Facebook: PoetsCornerPittsburgh  LinkedIn


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