A Few Thoughts on Theatre Etiquette
On Thursday night, a father and mother brought their two-year-old son to see the show. They sat on an aisle only a few rows from the stage. The boy chattered and wiggled incessantly throughout the first act, barely contained by his father. The mother was not much of an example, answering her phone no fewer than six times during the show. To her credit(?), she had the decency to mutter "I'm at a show" and walk out of the theatre to continue her conversations, but one wonders why she couldn't have turned her phone off when the house manager instructed everyone to do so before we started.
Please don't mistake this for an anti-kids-at-serious-theatre rant. I love children in the audience, and often play my asides directly to them. And there's enough slapstick and silliness in this production of Shrew that children are often laughing the loudest midway through the second act.
But wiggly-boy was so disruptive to both players and audience that one actor felt compelled to direct his every line about someone being silent at the offending child and father. The father, first oblivious then mortally offended, was heard complaining on his way out after the show that "it isn't a crime to bring a two-year-old to the theatre."
Well, maybe it isn't a crime in this place and era. But it is without doubt an appalling lack of any kind of judgment, indescribably thoughtless and inexcusably selfish. Perhaps a refresher course is in order. I have arranged my thoughts in bullet points to facilitate efficacious learning! The "We" referred to is the cast of any stage performance.
- We are not TV. We can hear your two-year-old; the acoustics in theatre spaces are very good. We can hear your phone ring, we can hear your candy wrapper, and we can hear your conversation. We are trying very hard to put on a great show for you, and your two-year-old is making it much more difficult. Why not take him out to run around in the gardens for a while until he calms down?
- The theatre is not your living room. The other audience members are even closer to your child than we are, and they are almost certainly even more disrupted. It could be argued that the fact that they paid money to see the show is even more compelling reason than actor-disruption for you to leave your child at home. Or at least to take him out to run around in the gardens for a while until he calms down.
- We are in the middle of our job. You know that big presentation you had last month? We have that too, but it's presented four to six nights a week. What would your presentation have been like with a two-year-old babbling and shrieking in the corner of the board room? What would your everyday work be like with said child running up and down the halls of your office?
- Shakespeare is not really the best entertainment for two-year-olds. Yes, I know that Shakespeare is universally acknowledged as the greatest dramatist of all time, I know that his plays endure because they appeal to all kinds of people, and I know that he is credited with "the invention of the modern human being." But I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that no two-year-old ever born on this Earth is going to appreciate that. Perhaps you should consider other entertainments for the next two or three years. Like a babysitter.
- Turn off your phone. Not vibrate, not "mosquito"-ring. Off. OFF. This is not negotiable.
Look, I am glad to see every single face in the audience, I truly am. I am incredibly grateful to God and country that I get to do this for a living, and the audience is what makes that possible. But theatre etiquette is not some antiquated idea, it's a set of behaviors existing to make the experience more meaningful for you, the audience. Just please, please remember that there are real people up on that stage and in the seats around you, and that what you and your children do affects them.