Here’s a piece from the old nytheatre.com website, circa 2007, written by then-assistant editor Michael Criscuolo. I don’t know that I agreed 100% with all of this even then, but we decided to include it on the site as a potential aide to our readers. Very interested in what folks think about it today!
Rules of proper conduct and etiquette have been developed over the years by theatre professionals and regular theatregoers. These rules are commonly observed and new theatregoers are expected to follow them.
Please arrive at the theatre early. Give yourself plenty of time to use the restroom and find your seat without rushing. Getting to the theatre on time is of crucial importance to having an enjoyable theatregoing experience. Having to slide past people to reach your seats once the show has started can be highly disruptive to both the audience and the actors. For this reason many theatres will not seat latecomers until there is a reasonable break in the action, which sometimes is not until intermission.
Check your program before the show. Sometimes there will be an insert stating that an actor’s understudy will be going on in his/her place. There may also be program notes that provide helpful background information about the show you are seeing.
Photographic and video recording of every kind is prohibited during a performance. Camera flashes are a dangerous distraction to the actors onstage—they can break their concentration and momentarily impair their vision—while camera phones, digital cameras, and camcorders can be a supreme annoyance to other audience members. Plus, AEA rules stipulate that any unauthorized videotaping is against the law. Anyone who violates those rules may be removed from the theatre (in the best case scenario), or, perhaps, have their recording equipment confiscated (in the absolute worst case scenario).
There is no outside food or drink allowed in the theatre. Concessions are usually available at the theatre before the show or at intermission for those who would like some. As a rule, eating during a performance is heavily frowned upon and discouraged: rustling food wrappers, crunchy candy, and beverages slurped through a straw can also be very distracting to the actors and to those around you. In case of illness, unwrap your cough drops or other such items before the show starts. (But, if you are sick, then you really shouldn’t be out, should you?)
If you’re seeing a revival of your favorite musical, please don’t sing along. Yes, it’s fun to experience those songs in person, but keep in mind that the other audience members paid to hear the actors sing those songs, not you. If you want to sing along with the show, please wait until you get home.
Please turn off your cell phone or beeper before the show begins. If it rings during a performance, it can be especially distracting (and irritating) to both the cast and the audience. If you need to keep it on in case of emergency, switch it to “silent” or “vibrate.” That way you can still monitor any incoming calls without disturbing anyone. Under no circumstances should any phone calls be answered during a performance. There is no better way to start an audience uprising. If you need to take or make a call, it’s best to remove yourself to the lobby in order to do so. Cell phone etiquette is of utmost importance to today’s theatregoers and breaches of it are not tolerated.
If you are not enjoying the show, you are under no obligation to stay. Feel free to leave quietly during an acceptable break in the action, like a scene change, when it will cause the least interruption. Please do not stay and complain to those sitting around you. Remember: just because you aren’t enjoying the show doesn’t mean that they aren’t. Theatre is subjective.
Bringing children to the theatre can be one of the most exciting moments of their young lives. Children love getting caught up in and entranced by the magic of theatre. Just as there are commonly observed rules of conduct for adult theatergoers, there are similar rules for children coming to the theatre.
Get your child involved right off the bat. Let them help you pick which show you all go see. Allowing them to put their two cents in will increase their interest level immediately. Make sure it’s a show that you’re interested in seeing, too, as your enthusiasm will be contagious.
Check and make sure that the show is appropriate for your child. If you’re not sure, call the theatre and ask: the staff will be more than glad to help you. This is a purely subjective decision, since every child is different. Just make sure to match your child with subject matter you know they can handle. (FYI: just because there’s a child actor in the show doesn’t mean that the show is for children.)
Talk to your child beforehand about being a good audience member. Acquaint them with the Rules of Theatregoing Etiquette. And remember: YOU set the example for them.
When the play is over, talk with your child about it. Find out what they liked and didn’t like. Encourage them to ask questions. The more they talk, the more it’ll help you figure out what kind of shows to take them to in the future.
Most important: have fun!
Knowing what to wear to a show can be stressful and confusing. New York’s theatre dress code runs the gamut from formal to extremely casual. The key to figuring it out is knowing what kind of show you’re seeing.
First of all: people still dress up for Broadway shows. It’s not uncommon to see men in a jacket and tie and women in fancy dresses. However, neither is necessary any longer. Business casual is an equally acceptable form of dress for Broadway shows now. Even jeans and sneakers have become acceptable, especially at matinees!
The same dress code applies to many Off-Broadway shows as well. However, the dress code Off-Broadway is also more casual than it is on Broadway. Casual wear is more acceptable Off-Broadway because the shows and the venues are more casual.
The Off-Off-Broadway dress code is even looser: anything goes, dress-wise. Sometimes, the lack of formality Off-Off-Broadway almost demands t-shirts and jeans—both of which are seen frequently adorning its patrons. But, formal wear is still more than acceptable Off-Off-Broadway: people often come to the theatre straight from work or dinner or some other engagement.
One thing that all New York theatres have in common, despite their classification, is a proliferation of cramped seating. Many venues have a stingy amount of leg room or walk space between rows of seats, making large coats, big bags, and packages difficult to handle.