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Bad Theatre Etiquette

by Sean Clark-Wilkinson 4 years ago in list

WHY IS BAD THEATRE ETIQUETTE EVEN A THING?! My top 3 worst experiences of bad theatre etiquette and some examples of how not to be a d*ck.

Since a young age I've been fascinated with the theatre. The idea that you can be transported, emotionally, to another world without even leaving your seat enthralls me. And I find it so hard then, once I'm encapsulated, to think about anything other than this masterpiece in front of me.

However, some people find it incredibly easy to distance themselves from the drama, and even to distract other theatre goers in the process. I cannot comprehend why ANYONE would feel it appropriate to talk, sing, play on their phones(!!!) or even HECKLE when a performer is performing.

It's distracting. It's annoying. And it's down right rude to the performers who have worked so hard to bring this piece of art together & and the audience members who have paid good money to see it.

Here are my top 3 worst experiences of bad theatre etiquette and some examples of how not to be d*ck.

• A couple of years ago a friend of mine was touring the UK with Joseph & The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, we wanted to show our friend some support so we booked to watch it in Manchester. (Honestly if he wasn't in it I wouldn't have gone to see it, it's not one I normally enjoy.)

I went with my girlfriend and a friend of ours, we sat in the stalls two seats away from the aisle, myself closest to the aisle. We were happy with these seats; great view, pretty central to the action, not too far back. It was great. Then a couple walked in. They must have been mid 60s at least. And they sat down next to me (on the aisle.)

I could tell, for sure, that she was a big fan of the show as she had brought her CAMEL TEDDY along, which she would inform us was bought when she first saw the show in its original London production, over 30 years ago! I thought, 'that's sweet,' it's not my kind of show, but she is obviously excited to be here.

Then the show started. And when I say she sang along to every word. I mean she SANG ALONG TO EVERY WORD. And not even discreetly. At points I wasn't sure if maybe the cast could hear her. I was honestly embarrassed for her.

Now, I'm the kind of person who hates confrontation, so I just persevered and tried to drown her out by placing a finger in my ear on the side that she was sat. But the lady on the row in front was FUMING, turning round several times to 'shush' her.

This angered Singing Lady and I would often hear her turning to her husband and complaining about the complaints she was receiving.

It was all too much, and in the interval an usher politely asked the lady to be quiet. We all took a sigh of relief, until after the usher was out of ear shot she turned to her husband and asked, "Why would I not sing along to my favourite musical?"

She then proceeded to sing throughout the rest of the second act. Much to the dismay of the surrounding audience members.

A word of advice for any would be 'sing-along'ers; unless you are specifically told by an actor or an announcer that you can "sing along if you know the words" (normally at the curtain call after the bows.) DO NOT SING ALONG. We have all paid good money to come and hear the professionals sing the music the way it was written, not to hear you sing it just slightly off key.

• When it comes mobile/cell phones in the theatre, I become slightly obsessive compulsive about what happens before the show starts. It's one of my biggest fears that my phone will go off during a performance and I'll be booed out of the auditorium by disgruntled theatre goers. So once I'm seated at any presentation I will ALWAYS double and triple check that my phone is on silent, turn the device volume down to zero, turn the ringer volume down to zero, make sure I don't have any alarms set during the show (even though I know I only set them for when I need to wake up) and finally put it into airplane mode, so that no messages will come through. I do this every show. Bar none.

So imagine my frustration and confusion when I once appeared in an amateur production of Sweeney Todd as Anthony Hope, walking out on stage after the Act 2 opening number to sing "Johanna (reprise)" stood at the front of the stage. I look down to the FRONT ROW OF THE STALLS and see a girl, probably about 17? Clear as day. PLAYING A GAME ON HER PHONE.

I was, for want of a better phrase, f*cking fuming. And to make matters even more awkward, she took her eyes away from her phone for a second to watch me singing, we had a moment of eye contact, SHE HAD CLOCKED THAT I HAD SEEN HER...THEN SHE CARRIED ON PLAYING!!!

The phrase "more front than Blackpool" springs to mind.

Here's a tip for you if you're not enjoying a performance. Leave. Get out. If you feel like, you can always ask for your money back, maybe it turned out to not be the show you thought it would be. But never EVER just sit there and play on your phone. It's distracting to other audience members, it's distracting to actors on stage and it's down right rude.

(That one felt more like a rant than an anecdote, but honestly it frustrated me no end.)

I've already spoken about people singing from the stalls, and as an audience member, I am strongly against it. But as a performer, given the right situation, I love it. In May 2017 I played Patsy in an amateur production of Spamalot. As you may or may not know, at the start of the second act, Patsy gets to sing the shows best known number, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," which became a fan favourite after it appeared in Monty Python's Life of Brian.

Every night I reveled in the fact that audience members would sing along, and when other audience members tried to shush them I would encourage more people to sing. I don't want to sound like a hypocrite, but I felt like this was an appropriate time. And as I mentioned before, it's only appropriate when the performers encourage it.

One such time when I didn't encourage audience participation, however, was when I played the lead role, Joe Casey, in Our House, the Madness musical. There is a really poignant scene where Joe bumps into his ex girlfriend, they get chatting and soon realise that they're both still in love with each other.

Cue the unmistakable piano chords for the intro "It Must Be Love" and from the back of the stalls myself and my co star, Jess, can hear, clear as day; "AHH TUUUNE!"

We were both holding back the laughter as we stared into each other's eyes. It was her cue to sing, but she couldn't bring herself to remember her words, so I remember our Musical Director on keys vamping for his life. He must have repeated the opening bars about eight times, and this is not an exaggeration.

Meanwhile I was supposed to ad lib some dialogue underneath her singing, but just couldn't talk. The audience had a laugh, entire scene lost its poignancy and we ended up looking like a bit of a joke.

Tip: if you like a song in a show, sit back, relax and enjoy it. Not everybody needs to know how much you love it. Maybe just wait till after the show, come and find me and tell me!!


The biggest issue, as well, is that you hear about it on a daily basis on social networking sites and MT forums. It seems like it's a completely normal thing for a lot of people. Like they're oblivious to the fact that it's upsetting others, or as though they don't even care. Not only are they ruining it for everyone else, but also for themselves. They, like us, have paid the money for a ticket, given up an evening or and afternoon of their life to be here. It just seems like a waste if all you're going to do is sit and play Words With Friends, or mock the actors or chat about last nights episode of Big Brother.

All it takes is common sense and common decency. Don't be one of those people that get shouted at by ushers, don't be one of those people that get ranted about on social media and just don't be a d*ck.



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Sean Clark-Wilkinson

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