Etiquette in the theatre would be the same all over the world however the behaviour in the theatre in different parts of the world can differ depending on the nation and its culture. Like driving, I believe that the more North you go in Europe the more disciplined the driver is and the more South you go the more erratic. My theory is the same when it comes to etiquette in the theatre. The more South you go, the noisier and undisciplined the audience becomes. However London theatres are not full of English theatre goers but tourists from all over the world and therefore you get a mishmash of different problems from eating in the theatre to carrying the days shopping into the theatre and blocking all the aisles!
Theatregoers in Malta differ too; the ones that go and see the Opera and the ones that go and see “Maltese teatrine” will differ again. I have been involved in theatre for most of my life and most recently, here in Malta I have acquired countless pet peeves, one of them being the lack of etiquette that many audience members observe. Even the most basic of things such as turning off your mobile phone or at least putting it on silent seems to be a farfetched idea. Both as a theatre patron and as an actor, I have legitimate perspective for what I am about to write. However, I have decided not to write about actual incidents I have experienced in the theatre (I have a word limit you know) but I must mention briefly the opening of a sweet wrapper during a somber quiet scene, which killed the mood for both the actors and the audience, and another was when my neighbour, with a mobile phone big enough to watch a 3D film on, decided to update their Facebook page during the play which resulted in a screen shining brighter than the spotlight on the stage!
Here are the basics, in my humble opinion.
Theatre Attire. What is appropriate or what is not? Dress for the occasion and I am not talking white tie or evening dress, but something that can be considered smart and presentable and not as if the outfit has been grabbed from a washing machine that has not been turned on.
Arrive on Time . Now this might seem quite self explanatory but consider that you not only have to get to the theatre but you also have to park. You might also have to pick up your theatre tickets and there could be a problem. So get there early, have a drink at the bar and relax and maybe visit the loo before you go in or during intermission. Do not stand up half way through a scene in live theatre and leave. It not only irritates your fellow theatre goers but it distracts the Actors!
Mobile phones. These should be put on Airplane Mode or Switched Off and not just put on Silent as noises are still audible. Do not speak on the phone even in a whisper. Just don’t use your phone, please. The light from the phone not only annoys the audience around you but can easily be spotted by the actors on stage. Obviously do not take any photos or video; flash photography is a real distraction.
Talking and fidgeting. Do not speak during a performance; whispering can still be heard and if you have to translate the entire text of a play to your companion, then you have come to the wrong show, or with the wrong person. Other bodily noises can be equally distracting, such as coughing and sneezing which cannot be helped but do try and muffle it. Obviously yawning or snoring are also a definite no! Sit still and do not ram your elbows into your fellow theatre goers next to you. If it is a musical do not hum away no matter how familiar or popular the tune is. The exception of course, is if you are watching Panto and you are meant to be standing and singing and instead you are sitting down looking glum!
Hats and head gear. Common manners normally dictate that men should remove head gear when inside but nowadays base ball caps or other sort of fashion hats are worn by men and not taken off. This can be quite distracting if they are sitting in front of you. Women’s primped up hair, elaborate fashion statements on the head or hats can also be distracting. Try your hardest not to be too tall. Now I know you cannot help it, but be sympathetic to the short person sitting directly behind you!
Clapping and Laughing. There is a whole etiquette as to when to clap and when to laugh. Just clapping when an Actor comes on stage is not on, as it can put them off. It may even cause him to forget his lines! So clap at the appropriate place such as the end of a scene or the end of an act. At the end if you think the show is worthy of a standing ovation, then stand up and don’t worry if you are the only one.
Laughing is quite subjective, as what is funny for me may not be funny for anyone else. Also, how loud do you laugh? A loud laugh can be quite infectious and will get the rest of the audience going. Do not whistle or scream at the actors except for Bravo or Brava if appropriate. Now these rules in this section do not apply during Panto as you should scream and boo as much as you want!!
Having written all this, I ask myself “are audiences going to read this and change their habits?” Probably not but what you can do is observe all these bad practices of some and shame them after a performance.