To be a member of an audience for a live performance is to hold a certain amount of power.
Think about it.
Actors prepare weeks in advance to bring the public their very best. Their work is exposed for the audience to either praise or pan. The energy a full house brings to the performance can lift the spirits of those on stage and behind the scenes or. . .
…it can create a bitter enmity.
The same show across multiple performances can see quiet and defiant patrons as well as laughing and appreciative audiences. And the comments backstage will reflect the actors’ read on the participants in the seats.“This house is AWESOME. They get the jokes and applaud after every scene!”
or. . .
“Did you see the girl on her cell phone?”
or. . .
“Why are they SO DEAD today?”
or. . .
“I thought we were sold out. Why are there so many empty seats?”
Because of the amount of work and personal investment that goes into every performance, actors, directors, and technicians tend to get emotionally involved in the response. We LOVE a committed, attentive, and receptive patron. We loathe the individual who strolls in late, yawns a lot, looks around, checks their social media, and leaves at intermission.
A few years ago, in an attempt to curb some inappropriate behavior emanating from our house, we published suggestions for audience etiquette in one of our programs. Here are a few excerpts from that production’s bill:
Thank you for your attendance this evening. We are grateful for your support of our theatre department, and we hope that tonight’s experience is a wonderful one. In addition to our commitment to the students, it is part of our mission to inform and educate those who attend our programs. To that end, please note the following guidelines regarding audience etiquette. Many are not aware of the distractions that can occur during a performance that will hinder the work of the actors and/or diminish the experience of other audience members.
- TEXTING – Texting or checking social media is a major no-no. The light in a dark house will catch an actor’s eye quicker than a falling set piece, and any distraction is dangerous. It can also irritate those around you. We also know when you try to hide it in your hand, cupped to your stomach, beneath your legs, or in your purse.
- HARD CANDY – Unwrapping hard candy or cough drops in the middle of a performance can be heard throughout the hall. The sound of the plastic wrapper in your hands as you struggle to free the immovable treat takes those around you out of the illusion of the play. It can kill an emotional moment: the lovers are about to kiss… and crack, shuffle, crack, twist, crack! Unwrap before the show begins.
- BABIES – University theatre, unfortunately, is not for infants and young toddlers. Some of our plays contain content that is for mature audiences only. We tend to panic when we see a patron bring in his/her youngest family member. Times are tough, and we know that hiring a sitter is not always an option. We will be understanding as long as you sit on an aisle and exit as soon as the child becomes an interruption.
- UNPLANNED EXITS – Emergencies happen; that’s okay. For your comfort, we always note in the program how long an act will be before you get a break. Please look for this and plan accordingly.
- SLEEPING – Frankly, we’d rather you nap at home. Not all shows are exciting all the time; we know this well. But, we simply cannot afford to bring you an action movie in play form, and the students are working to learn the art. Your kind attention is deeply appreciated.
- MAKING OUT – Eww. No. Just… no. We are committed, however, to bringing you realistic kissing scenes when the script calls for it. Enjoy.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Have I seen each and every one of those happen in one or more of our performances in my time here?
And sometimes we just feel like giving up on humanity when audiences do not practice good manners. For example, in a recent production, a couple brought in a baby. Our front-of-house staff tried to dissuade them from the show, explaining the loud noises and mature content (which was clearly stated on all our promotional materials and website). The couple insisted on attending. Our house manager asked them to please sit near the exit door in case the child should wake and cry. They declined, insisting that the infant would sleep through the show. They sat on the other side of the theatre, where they would have to cross the stage to exit.
This was also the one performance we had planned to film after receiving written permission from the playwright.
I’m sure you can guess what happened. And instead of carrying the infant out the two times he cried, they turned to their fellow audience members and proclaimed, “We’re not leaving.” The video? Ruined. The performance? Strained. The audience? Antagonistic towards this couple. Our faith in humanity? *silent head shake*
All this is to say, we do this, in large part, for you—our audience! We would be nowhere without our patrons. We thrive on your attendance and participation. We listen carefully to your feedback and response. We pour ourselves out for you in the hopes that we can awaken an appreciation for the art form, for the issues addressed in the text, and for the talent and growth seen in the students.
Without you, our work is just another rehearsal.
And respecting the work . . . that’s just good manners.