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Photo credit: Audience fills the theatre (Photo by Wikimania 2009 on Flickr)

Theatre etiquette guide: How to behave at the theatre when seeing a show

Sophie Thomas
Sophie Thomas

Seeing a West End show is always something to look forward to, whether you've seen one show or hundreds. You may have bought theatre tickets months in advance, counted down the days, and soon enough, the show day is finally here! But heading to the theatre can also be daunting. You may be torn about what to wear to the theatre, when to arrive at the theatre, and what to expect while you're in the auditorium. However, we have a few handy tips to remember to make all your theatregoing experiences as comfortable as possible. 

We dissect the major do's and don'ts of going to the theatre, including the rules on eating and drinking, filming at the theatre, and meeting performers after the show. But in order to put your new knowledge into practice, you'll have to book theatre tickets first. Book theatre tickets to West End shows.

What is theatre etiquette?

Theatre etiquette is the phrase used to describe a set of rules and expected behaviours when you step inside an auditorium. Every person in the audience may have a different opinion on what "correct" theatre etiquette entails, however it's likely the vast majority will agree over a collected list of what is deemed "normal" in the theatre, and what is deemed "inappropriate."

Why is theatre etiquette important? 

Theatre etiquette is extremely important to ensuring everyone in the auditorium has a pleasant experience. Many people in the theatre invest a great deal of time and money into creating a fabulous theatregoing experience. So to have it taken away by members of the public that behave in an offensive manner can disrupt the entire show. 

Can I arrive late to the theatre?

While audience members can arrive late to the theatre, performances in theatres will begin at the advertised start time. So if you arrive late at the theatre, you'll miss part of the action. Some shows will not let in audiences until a suitable moment in the show, so you may miss lots of the show. Try to arrive at the theatre at least 15 minutes before the show so that you can go to the toilet, get a drink, and relax.

Can I speak during a show?

It's best to not speak during a show, or keep speaking to a bare minimum, as the noise can distract others and potentially the performers. If you need to say something important during a performance, do it during the applause, or whisper quietly. We advise refraining from talking about anyone's performance, especially if you have a negative opinion. Anyone could be listening.

Can I eat and drink in the theatre?

You are allowed to eat and drink in West End theatres. Many theatres sell light refreshments, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages before the performance begins and during the interval. There is no limit to how many refreshments you can purchase at the theatre.

There are no restrictions on what you can eat and drink in the auditorium. However, there are some foods which you should avoid. If possible, avoid eating smelly foods which will waft around the auditorium. Also it's best not to bring foods with noisy packaging, like crisp packets and sweet wrappers. If you're going to open a packet or wrapper during a performance, wait until a moment of applause so that the sound isn't quite as obvious. Nobody wants to hear food packets rustling during a silent moment on stage.

Many London theatres allow you to bring your own food and drink into the auditorium. Before going to see a show, we recommend checking the venue's individual policies. You don't want to throw any food into the waste bin.

Can I smoke in the theatre?

Smoking in the theatre is not permitted. Most theatres are indoor spaces, and smoking is prohibited in indoor venues. If you need to smoke during the show, then wait for the interval, where you can head outside and light up. There are some productions which use smoke, and actors may use cigarettes during the show. But that doesn't give you an excuse to smoke!

Can I use my mobile phone in the theatre?

During the show, you are not allowed to use your mobile phone in the theatre. Don't text, make calls, or answer calls during a live performance: It's extremely distracting for theatregoers around you, and can be offensive to the actors performing on stage. We recommend turning off your phone, or at least putting it on airplane mode, before a performance. If your phone does go off, decline the calls immediately and put your phone in your bag. If you are caught using your phone throughout a performance, your phone may be consficated. 

Can I take pictures during a performance?

You cannot take pictures during a performance. If you are caught taking pictures, a front of house member will tell you to stop, and if you are caught doing so multiple times, you may be asked to leave the theatre. There are a few West End shows which invite audiences to take pictures in the curtain call. If that's the case, then make sure your phone does not obstruct anyone else's view, and turn off your flash.

Can I film during a performance? 

You are not allowed to film during a performance. If you are seen filming a live performance, you will be ejected from the theatre. There are a few West End shows, such as Six the Musical, that invite audience members to film specific portions of the show. Performers will make it clear when you are allowed to film a part of the show.

Can I see actors after a show?

After a performance, any member of the public can wait at the stage door to hopefully catch a glimpse of their favourite actors after a show. It's important to note that seeing performers at the stage door is not included in the ticket price — it is down to an actor's individual discretion whether they greet people at the stage door.

Treat performers with the same respect that you would give to friends, family, and colleagues. If you do get to meet actors at the stage door, then show your appreciation for the actor and make sure to say thank you! Be kind and considerate of other fans around you too. If you give everyone a fair opportunity to say hello to their favourite performers, it'll make for a pleasant stage door experience for everyone.

Photo credit: Audience fills the theatre (Photo by Wikimania 2009 on Flickr)

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