ettiquette

How To Watch A Show

So you got a Groupon to a big show tonight? Or a half price ticket? Or won them in a raffle? You read about something cool on TripAdvisor? Or just Googled “something fun to do on a Thursday”?

Great!

Now you just show up and hang out, yeah? It’s just like going to a bar or restaurant or hanging out with friends, right?

Not quite. There’s a little more to it than that.

And, since it seems an overwhelming amount of people in Chicago audiences aren’t sure how to watch a show (I once saw someone texting during HAMILTON!) I’ve put together a handy checklist for you to make sure you blend in with the true theater-goers.

Follow these steps and you’ll be a great audience member in no time at all…

  1. Dress Up - Do it! Chances are you’re on a date or a work event or out with friends. Maybe you’ll take a picture as a couple or a selfie with the performers. You might even get dinner before. A little effort won’t kill you, right? I’m not talking a tuxedo or ball gown - just maybe leave the ripped jeans and flip flops at home. Plus, it just feels good to dress up, get out of the house, and do something new and exciting.

  2. Get There Early - Doors open at 7? Great, you should probably be there a little earlier. There will be lines and delays happen. If you’re driving, parking will probably be an issue. Public transportation isn’t always reliable either, so give yourself some extra time. When you show up late and you’re not allowed to enter the show, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

  3. Turn Your Phone Off - Seriously, turn your phone off. Not vibrate, not airplane mode. Turn it ALL THE WAY OFF. Don’t text or tweet. The screen lights up your face. It’s annoying for performers and for the people around you. Also, most theaters don’t allow photos or videos, and why would you want those anyway? You’re never going to watch that shaky, blurry, 30 minute vertical video of the show you just watched. Plus, you never want to be the one person who has to frantically search for their phone to silence it in the middle of an act. (I can’t speak for other performers, but do that at mine and I’ll be forced to reveal your deepest, darkest, most personal secrets.)

  4. Don’t Check Your Phone - “How can I check my phone if it’s turned off?”, I hear you say. I’ll tell you how. The show reaches intermission or you need to go to the restroom. You switch on your phone to fill the time and suddenly you’re back in 2019 scrolling Instagram and mindlessly texting your friends. You forget that a moment ago you were watching the founding fathers rap and getting wrapped up yourself. The second you turn on your phone you’ve cheated yourself of that experience. You’ve ruined the feeling those performers have worked hard to create. Don’t do it! Keep your phone off and get lost in the show. I promise it’s worth it!

  5. Don’t Talk - It’s one thing to react to something during a show. Leaning over to your significant other to say “That’s so true!” is quite different from having a full-blown conversation mid-show. I’ve seen people take phone calls, yell to people at the other end of the row, and talk loudly the whole way through a performance. Please don’t! Your whispered chatter carries through the space. It’s hard to deal with as a performer and incredibly disrespectful to the people around you. Every time I go to the movies I have to ask at least one person to stop talking. Don’t be that person.

  6. It’s Not All About You - You may be celebrating an anniversary or a bachelorette party or a birthday. You might be on a first date or out with your entire office. However, unless you’ve paid for a private performance, there are other people in the audience who bought a ticket for the same show you’re seeing. It’s not all about you. Sure, have a good time - laugh, cry, enjoy the show - but don’t let your enjoyment overwhelm the enjoyment of others. This is supposed to be an inclusive experience. Theater brings people together so don’t let your energy become too much that it pulls the audience apart.

I’m not just a performer - I’m a theatre lover.

I see a lot of shows - A LOT of theatre. My wife and I try to catch as many shows as possible. We go to the movies 1-2 times a week. We attend local discussions, theatrical premieres, musicals, improv shows, and concerts.

It’s how we spent our date nights in college and it’s our favorite way to spend an evening in the Windy City now. We can’t get enough.

But being an audience member takes effort and focus. It’s about respecting a performer’s craft and showing your appreciation for their performance. When we get distracted - or worse, become the distraction ourselves - we aren’t only being disrespectful. We’re robbing ourselves of something meaningful and unexpected. It’s up to us to meet the performers in the middle, in hopes of having a one-of-a-kind experience together.



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An Open Letter

To The Man In The Third Row:

I rarely feel the need to confront an audience member, sir, but suffice it to say you were that rare case.

It wasn’t hard to notice you were on your phone. When you’re onstage any little change in the environment sticks out like a sore thumb.

So, while I was trying to give a good performance tonight all I could see was the glow of your face, lit up like you were about to tell a scary story. I found it quite distracting to the moment I was trying to carefully craft onstage.

See, I’ve performed this version of the show over 100 times in the past six months. It’s rock solid. So that means I get to play with it now. I set the script to auto-pilot and go in search of new discoveries. I try to make more eye contact and find new ways to connect. Now that I understand the skeleton of the show I get to make something artistic out of it.

But that means I’m hyper aware of any little change to the theater. And so I couldn’t help but notice you were in the third row, on your phone, playing a game while I was trying to work.

For the past two months I’ve spent every day either onstage or in an airport. (Some days both.) There have been days when I’ve woken up and forgotten what city I was in. I’ve battled allergies and depression. I’ve lost my luggage and lost my voice. All in the name of the craft.

So tonight, running on no sleep, I knew I needed to focus extra hard. I wanted to give a good show. And after 20 minutes I was well on my way to one of my greatest feats - creating an audience out of a random group of strangers.

Then I saw you. And I couldn’t help but call you out.

I needed you to know that you were being disruptive and that being on your phone was disrespectful and a major distraction. I don’t regret that and I don’t regret making you sheepishly put your phone away while everyone else watched.

I did so knowing I would lose every ounce of momentum I had worked so hard to build. But it had to be done, so I channeled my inner Patti Lupone.

The point isn’t about being on your phone or living in the moment. The point isn’t that you embarrassed your wife or really made it awkward for everyone in attendance. (Not for me, though, I’m already thinking about my next show.)

No, the point is that the audience is an essential part of my performance. Without them there are no minds to read or thoughts to send. Without the audience there is no show. So I expect the audience to hold up their end of the bargain. I expect you to meet me in the middle so I can give you the show you deserve.

And if you do, I promise I’ll show you something that you can’t find anywhere else. Not even on your smartphone.

- MT



Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining my "Thursday Thoughts" mailing list. It's the best way to make sure you never miss a post. No spam, just a new thought shared with you every Thursday. Click here to sign up.