Whatever Happened to Theater Etiquette

Broadway shows are a highlight of the entertainment industry, attracting millions of theatergoers from around the world each year. There is nothing quite like the excitement of attending a Broadway show; from the stunning sets to the powerhouse performances, it is an experience that stays with you long after the final curtain call. Unfortunately, this excitement has been spoiled in recent years by a decline in proper theater etiquette, with many audience members disregarding the rules of common courtesy and respect. As a frequent theatergoer, I have witnessed firsthand the decline in appropriate etiquette at Broadway shows. From talking during performances to illegal recording, singing along, and even eating loudly, it is time to address this issue before it is too late.

During a recent performance of the new musical New York, New York, a woman seated in front of me started singing along to the classic song of the same name. Senior Lola Sokolskiy said, “[In] some shows like Hamilton, people have started to sing along during the show! It is mind-boggling.” We can all agree that singing along to iconic songs like these may be tempting, but it is important to remember that live theater is not a karaoke night – it is a place for professional performers to highlight their talent and for audience members to enjoy their hard work. Singing along is not only discourteous, but it is also disrespectful to the performers and fellow audience members. Another example of improper theater etiquette I experienced was during a performance of the popular musical Six. A woman seated next to me in the front mezzanine section took off her shoes and propped her bare feet on the railing for the entire show, not to mention she arrived late. Not only is this unhygienic, but it is also inconsiderate to fellow audience members who are trying to enjoy the show without being subjected to unpleasant sights or smells. 

So, what is appropriate theater etiquette? First and foremost, it is essential to arrive on time and be seated before the show starts. Those merchandise stands may be tempting, but if you are already running late, get seated as soon as possible; there is always time for that during the intermission. Once the show begins, refrain from talking or using electronic devices, especially during showtime. Senior Grace Benedict commented, “I have definitely noticed a lot of people on their phones during [Broadway] shows, [and] I have seen incidents where ushers have to tell people to turn off their phones [in the middle of a show]. It is extremely distracting and rude. Why spend an insane amount of money to see a show, and then not even pay attention?” Social studies teacher Koren Pena agreed, believing that cell phone usage and negative behavior are becoming more common, especially during Broadway shows. “… [Although] I personally have not witnessed any crude or rude behavior while seeing a show, I do believe it is on the rise,” she said. 

In addition, do not be obnoxious when eating, and try to limit it. Furthermore, if you need to leave during the performance, do so quietly and wait for an appropriate moment to re-enter. While applauding and showing appreciation for the performers is certainly okay, save the standing ovations for the end. Lastly, while the dress code for live theater performances has evolved, it is still important to dress presentably when attending a show. Benedict added, “There has also been a decrease in the number of people dressed appropriately. You are supposed to dress nicely when seeing a Broadway show. Many people just do not anymore.” So, the next time you attend a Broadway show, consider dressing up a bit and keeping the sports jersey for the game.

Broadway theater etiquette is a dying matter that must be revived. By embracing these common courtesy practices, we can help preserve the wonder of live theater for generations to come. So, remember to be mindful of your actions the next time you attend a Broadway show. Let us keep the curtains rising and the magic alive by practicing good theater etiquette!