Monday, June 2, 2014

What Happened to Theatre Etiquette? - The ABC's of Audience Etiquette

Last week, Mike and I went to see my brother perform in John Logan's Tony award winning play, RED at the New Vic Theatre in Santa Barbara.  My brother, Shaun, played the part of Ken, opposite the part of Mark Rothko played by Matt Gottlieb. We went back again this past weekend for closing day and caught the matinee. What I liked about this production is that the play begins when Rothko begins, a clever choice by the director. This also means that there is no cue for the audience to know when they should begin. When Rothko stands from his seat, you are now in his world, along for the journey.

Theatre has always been my first love. At 17, I had a play produced by the Blank Theatre Company in Los Angeles, an event that changed the direction of my life. Playwriting is what I went to college for - B.F.A. in Dramatic Writing from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. But before this life changing event there was a teacher who pointed me this way. My acting teacher in high school is the first person who sparked my interest in little black box theatres. She was the first person to really expose me to theatre on both grand and small scales and when I was sixteen, she organized a trip to Broadway. My father who had lost his business the year before, saved up enough to send me on the week long trip which became a defining moment in my life. I have never felt more glamourous than stepping into a theatre on Broadway.

Since that trip, theatre has become a sort of temple for me. I dress up for the theatre. I do my hair and make-up and sometimes I even wear heels. I wear dresses. I don't like to talk before the show, because the moment I step inside the theatre I am somewhere sacred. I don't talk, I don't whisper, I don't put my phone on vibrate - I turn it off. I respect the theatre and all it has given me. It has helped shape my life.

It is not lost on me that I have become old fashioned in this regard. I don't see as much theatre anymore and when I do, I have noticed a decline in etiquette and respect. People no longer dress up for the theatre. People forget to turn their phones on silent. People chew gum.  But in just two shows in one week I witnessed a lady sitting in the front row fanning herself the entire play, a guy in the front row with his feet propped up on stage and might I add his cell phone went off. I have heard running commentary. I have seen people switching seats in the middle of the play. I have seen sneakers and shorts. Yesterday, I sat behind a guy who wore his sunglasses on the back of his head.

I get it. We are a denim-wearing country. Long gone are the days of fedoras and trench coats in the theatre. But, when did we welcome Tevas and Miley Cyrus ringtones? What happened to theatre etiquette? Better yet, what happened to our manners? Maybe it just got lost. Maybe we don't know. Maybe it's up to this blog post to help us remember the ABC's of audience etiquette:

Always turn your phone off.

Be respectful in both your actions and your attire.

Cool it with the commentary. You are not more interesting than what is happening on stage.


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