Please Don’t Bring Your Baby to the Theatre and Other Tips & Etiquette

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Patti LuPone will kick you out of a theatre without hesitation. Shown here starring in Company in 2011. Image courtesy LA Times.

This summer, a mother with a small baby was denied access to a performance of Sister Act at Rainbow Stage, despite the theatre’s very clear no-babes-in-arms policy listed on their website and their tickets. Most of the online comments I read agreed with my opinion, which is that this is ridiculous and that the baby should stay at home. Being a dedicated theatre patron, I thought I would offer my advice to make your theatre experience the best one possible.

Leave your small children at home.
To begin with a topical and (I hope) most obvious tip, please do not bring your small children to a performance. Some theatres in New York ban all children under 7. A good rule of thumb is that if they don’t receive good school comments about staying in their seat, they’re not ready to sit down for three hours in a row. If your child isn’t in school yet, they better be trained. Do not, under any circumstances, bring a baby to the theatre. Even if it’s The Lion King. Save yourself $90 and watch the movie on repeat at home. They’re not going to remember it anyway. If you’re wondering about the content of the show, check your local theatre’s website or call them to find out their policy. If you really can’t be separated from your child for that long, your mind will not be on the show anyway and you’ve wasted your money.

Dress appropriately.
It’s not necessary to dress up in evening gowns and tuxedos to go to the theatre anymore. You should, however, put some thought into the way that you dress. It shows respect to the theatre and to the actors. A good outfit is usually a pair of dress pants and a nice dress or polo shirt or blouse. A sundress with a cardigan is also nice. Shorts with a nice T-shirt are okay if it’s an outdoor theatre. Think job interview. It’s also important to go easy on the perfume or cologne. Some people have sensitivities to strong scents and this could give them a serious allergic reaction or at the very least, give them a headache and ruin the experience for them.

Put your phone away.
I’ve noticed this more in American theatres, but the glare from the screen of a phone is the most annoying and distracting thing in a performance possible. The audience behind and beside you can see it. The actors can see it. Madonna attended a performance of Hamilton in its run at the Public Theatre and was denied access backstage after the show because she was on her phone the whole time. Actor Jonathan Groff had some choice words to say about that. Please, leave your phone in your pocket or purse for the time that actors are on stage. You don’t want to feel the wrath of Patti.

Don’t sing along.
I’m pretty sure I could get up on a stage and perform the entire songbook from RENT without hesitation. That doesn’t mean I should. Yes, I know you know all the words to “Defying Gravity,” but if I paid to see the actress playing Elphaba to sing it, that’s who I want to hear sing it. Please, unless invited to (such as in Hedwig‘s “Wig in a Box” or “Midnight Radio”), refrain from singing along.

Have compassion for your fellow audience members.
Recently, at a performance of The King and I in New York, an autistic audience member was “yelping” during the show and other theatregoers were getting upset. Kelvin Moon Loh, who stars in the show, came out with a wonderful statement that said: “I ask you — when did we as theater people, performers and audience members become so concerned with our own experience that we lose compassion for others?” This is not the same as fussy babies or wearing too much perfume. This individual is a member of our society, the same as anyone else, and has a place in the theatre community.

Enjoy yourself.
I can’t tell you how many humming-and-hawing husbands I’ve sat beside. Listen, buddy. You’re paying some good money to watch some talented people do what they do best. Relax. You can ask my fiancee — who used to dislike theatre — about how I’ve turned him into a convert (sometimes he texts me about how “Music of the Night” has been in his head all day. He knows a way to a girl’s heart). Don’t be stubborn about it, let yourself enjoy it. My father will tell you unashamedly how much he likes The Sound of Music. It’s not emasculating. It’s making you cultured. Sighing throughout the entire performance is not helping anyone.

Follow my tips and I promise that you and all of your fellow theatregoers will have an excellent experience at your next musical or play.

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