Tips and advice on how to practice good Broadway theatre etiquette and appropriate manners when attending a show at a Broadway theater
Some Broadway theater newcomers aren't sure what the proper behavior and Broadway theatre etiquette is when attending a Broadway play or musical. Common questions that Broadway first-timers ask are: What is the appropriate attire for the theater? Are refreshments available at the theater? When do I applaud during the performance?
Those are all good questions, but there are also other important questions that most Broadway visitors don't think to ask, many of which are related to how to behave (and how not to behave) during the show so as to better enjoy the performance and to allow the rest of the people in the audience to enjoy it as well.
Sitting in a Broadway show is not like being at a movie theater - it's usually much more quiet, so you have to be more careful not to make noise. The performers who are entertaining you are doing so live and in person, so it's important to be respectful to them as well.
Because many first-time Broadway theater attendees - and, frankly, many regular theatergoers who should really know better by now - aren't exactly sure what the proper Broadway theatre etiquette and behavior is, we have created a primer on the Do's and Don'ts (mostly the latter) of Broadway theatre etiquette when attending a live performance.
1. Turn Off Your Cell Phone
Somehow the most obvious rule of good Broadway theatre etiquette is still the most often disregarded. Turn it off, people. Turn. It. Off. And, no, putting your cell phone on vibrate isn't good enough - the people next to you can hear that weird buzzing sound, too.
2. Don't Send Text Messages During the Show
You may think you're being all incognito, but in a darkened theater, the light from your cell phone screen is incredibly distracting to those around you. And why do you still have your phone on anyway? We just told you to turn it off!
3. Eat Your Dinner Before the Show, Not DURING It
This isn't the movies. Munching on candy and chips during a live Broadway performance is annoying to your neighbors. Bringing hamburgers and buckets of KFC (oh, yes, we've seen people do it) is an outrage. If you're absolutely starving (after all, nobody wants to hear your stomach growling either), then a little quiet snacking on something fairly unobtrusive like M&Ms is acceptable. But it's still better if you avoid eating altogether during the show and get your treats in the lobby during the intermission instead.
4. If You Have To Cough, Cover Your Mouth
In this age of diseases-of-the-week from SARS to swine flu, there is nothing more bone-chilling to a Broadway theatergoer than the sound of a nearby cough and an accompanying gust of air. Yuck. Coughing is inevitable, but failure to cover your mouth is unforgivable, so try to keep kleenex or a handkerchief on hand. And if you have a cold, be sure to bring some lozenges with you.
5. Unwrap Cough Drops and Candies in Advance
If you anticipate any coughing fits during the show, be sure to unwrap your lozenges before the performance starts and have them at the ready. That crinkling sound is like nails on a chalkboard during a quiet play. And, no, unwrapping it S-L-O-W-L-Y does not help the situation ... it's much, much worse.
6. Don't Be A Disruptive Miss Manners
Sure, it's irritating when someone's cell phone goes off, but what's even worse is when the brief breach of Broadway theatre etiquette is followed by a series of overreactions from other audience members. Annoyed "Tsks," "Hmphs," hisses, snarls, and shouts of "Turn it off!" along with scandalized glares can be just as distracting as the original disruption.
7. Don't Talk During the Show
A quick whisper to your neighbor, or an audible reaction to something interesting that happens on stage is fine (this is the live theater, not the morgue), but keep conversations to the intermission and after the show. Nobody needs to hear your theories on what the next plot twist will be, and please refrain from asking your companion to explain to you what was just said onstage. By the time he or she explains it to you, you'll have both missed something else important.
8. Don't Sing Along
It's tempting sometimes, we know. But if you want to sing on Broadway, then you're going to have to audition like those people up onstage did. Your fellow Broadway fans paid the big bucks to hear the professionals flex their vocal muscles, not you. Save your sweet singing for post-show karaoke. (There are a few exceptions to this rule, such as when the performers onstage actually prompt the audience to join in.)
9. Don't Feel Like You Have to Dress Up
Although opening night audiences usually dress up a bit, there is no dress code for Broadway. Technically you can come in shorts and flip flops, but we advise against this, especially since Broadway theaters usually crank up the air conditioning.
10. Try Not To Fall Asleep
If the show is truly horrendously boring, then your snoring may be taken as a protest of sorts, but generally it's just disruptive to those around you. It's also insulting to the hard-working performers up onstage who were not allowed to change the words/songs and are just as bored as you. Note to the young people: do not be tempted to wake up the old people mid-scene as they often make gurgling noises as the come to their senses, wait for a song or intermission.
11. Standing Ovations and Entrance Applause Are Overdone - Don't Give In To Peer Pressure
Traditionally, applause for an actor when he or she first takes the stage and standing ovations at the end of a Broadway show were signs of an audience so full of appreciation and respect that they couldn't help themselves. Lately these reactions seem to have become obligatory, and unfortunately when standing ovations and entrance applause are done out of mere habit, they essentially become meaningless. Ultimately, how you react is up to you, but let your true feelings guide you on this.
12. Respect the Space and Comfort of Those Around You
The average Broadway theater seat makes Economy Class on a commercial airliner look luxurious, so sometimes a little elbow bumping can't be helped. But you can practice good Broadway etiquette by taking care to not lean into your neighbor, hog armrests, intrude on other people's already limited leg room, or let your big heavy coat hang so far off the back of your seat that it ends up in someone else's lap.
13. Come Clean
A day of busy New York City sightseeing in the summer or a post-work / pre-theater session at the gym can leave you sweaty and not-so-sweet smelling. For the sake of those sitting next to you, try to make time for a shower before arriving at the theater. And don't go too heavy on the aftershave or cologne afterwards - too much of a good smell can be just as bad as unpleasant body odor.
14. Stop Whooping
Your enthusiasm for the show is wonderful, but should be tempered out of consideration for both the audience and the performers. Nobody needs to hear people shrieking, whooping, screaming, and hollering after every song. It is a Broadway show, not a rock concert, not an arena or a sports stadium. If you are so moved to react to the show, then a gentle clap after the song is appropriate, but whooping is not. Save your whooping for the final curtain call, where you can whoop as much as you would like. Woop, woop!
15. No Photos At Any Time
No photos are allowed in Broadway theatres, so please do not attempt to take them. No one cares if they are for your Facebook page or or for twitter and this is a lame excuse to break the theatre policy as no-one really cares for your reasons (except your mom, maybe). Taking photos in the theatre lobby is sometimes allowed, but the ushers can be really mean about it. Forget trying to impress the ushers with "who you know", or "who you are", as there is a famous story about when the ushers told George Lucas (of Star Wars fame) to stop taking photos before the show started. After this frosty reception to Lucas, do not expect to see Star Wars The Broadway Musical anytime soon.