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”?


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.


I love theatre.

I love the moment when the curtain goes up and a hush goes over the room. I love being transported to another place, escaping my fears and anxieties for a few hours. I love sharing a moment of catharsis with several hundred strangers whom I may never share a moment with ever again.

I love the work that goes into a show - the lighting and scenery and sound and choreography. I love the marquee and the proscenium and the playbill. I love my ticket stubs, all neatly filed away in a box of keepsakes.

I absolutely love theatre.

To me, the theatre is a sacred place. The world sucks a lot of the time but theatre can help us forget about that, if only for a moment. A beautiful performance can transcend barriers and cultural divides. Theatre brings us all together.

I dress up when I go to the theatre. Usually a suit and tie. I block out the night of the show on my calendar and count down the days to the big event. 

I make it my mission to see as much live theatre as possible. I drive to neighboring cities or extend my trips when possible to catch a performance. I even flew to Europe once just to see a show. I don’t want to grow old regretting that I never saw such-and-such actor or singer or comedian or show in person. So I keep buying tickets and I keep going because the theatre is a big freaking deal.

Or at least that’s how it used to be. But lately, I’ve noticed a different trend.

I saw Hamilton last week. Yes, THAT Hamilton. And yes, it was as magical and extraordinary and moving and enchanting as everyone says. It was INCREDIBLE.

I paid $500 a ticket to attend, too. I put a bunch of money aside just for those tickets and turned down work just so I could stay in Chicago to see it. I waited two freaking years to see that show and I freaking LOVED it.

But, there was a young lady next to me who kept looking at her phone and smartwatch during the show. Every few minutes she’d sneak a glance at her phone and I’d notice the glow out of the corner of my eye. It’s really hard to get transported back to 1776 when someone next to you is deciding between emojis.

Why would you pay over $500 for a ticket, only to spend half of the time on your phone?

Are the actors not trying hard enough for you? Is the award-winning score not good enough for you? Are the rave reviews and Tony Awards not enough? Were you not moved by the relevancy of the subject matter and how it connects to our current political climate? Were you not entranced by the use of modern sounds to tell the story of the American Revolution?

What will it take to get you to put your phone down for a couple hours? What will it take for you to be here - in this moment - living for the now?

Nearly every time I see a show someone in the audience ends up being disrespectful. I’m tired of late arrivals and loud talking and people on their phones and people dressing down. I’m tired of other people ruining my experience at the theatre. If nothing else, shut up and let everyone else have a good time.

Look, I’m as connected as they come. In my office I have an iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and iMac all next to my windows. I spend all day working online so I can spend my evenings doing something I love.

And what I love most is to be in the theatre, either onstage or off. So when I’m there I turn off my smartwatch and silence my phone because I’m there to get lost for a while. I’m there to be part of a one-of-a-kind experience that will never happen the same way again.

I love everything about the theatre. Please don’t ruin that for me.

Another Show

I overheard the following exchange between two performers recently:

“Hey, how was your show?”

“It was fine. Just another show…”

Maybe I look at this differently but I didn’t spend my childhood dreaming of being onstage so I could just do “another show”. I didn’t spend my twenties sleeping on couches and pounding the pavement so I could just do “another show”. And I refuse to take the obvious path towards “another show” in my thirties.

I want more.

I want people to view what I do differently and I want them to talk about it for weeks after. I want them to leave the show feeling differently than when they arrived.

When I was younger I remember seeing a production of “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” that left me transfixed. It was one of the earliest memories I have of watching a show and saying to myself “I have to do that.

After the performance I tracked down all of the performers - local high schoolers - in the lobby and had them sign my program. I’ve been a collector of playbills, autographs, ticket stubs, and theatre mementos ever since.

I was only 7 years old but I still remember that show. Why?

It was perfect timing, I guess. I was young and seeking inspiration. I was encouraged to try new things. And I had a vivid imagination.

And now, nearly 25 years later, I have an incredible opportunity to take the stage on a nightly basis and do the same for someone else.

Maybe there’s a youngster in the crowd who has always wanted to perform but didn’t know how to get started. I could be the spark of inspiration that sets them down their personal path to success.

Maybe someone hates magic because of how it’s presented in pop culture. I have the chance to do something different and change their mind.

Maybe someone is having a bad day or needs an escape. Maybe someone is a big fan or seeing me for the first time. Maybe they’re on a date or celebrating a birthday. I have an opportunity to create something special that they’ll always remember.

I have a chance to be their “Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe” moment.

I hear the naysayers now:

“You’re just an entertainer. This is a little over-the-top, isn’t it?” 

No, it’s not. Not for me.

That’s why you’ll never hear me demean what I do. You’ll never hear me call it “silly” or shrug it off like it doesn’t matter. 

It does matter. It matters to me.

You can take what you do seriously without taking yourself seriously. You can demand respect for your profession and refuse to fall into the same patterns that other people do. 

What do you do best?

For me, it’s mystery and amazement. I’m in the business of blowing minds.  My show is funny, yes, and hopefully entertaining. But the real point is to amaze. The real point is to show someone something truly impossible.

Comedians have jokes and singers make music, but I work in the medium of jaw-dropping, pure, unadulterated wonder. That’s what I always return to. And I refuse to give it any less than my best.

If you treat what you do with respect then people will take notice. They’ll do a double-take and sense that what you do is just a little different. They’ll get it.

Before I take the stage, before I say my opening words, before the host finishes their introduction and my walk-on music plays, before I walk through the curtain and start the show, I remind myself that I’m about to take a roomful of strangers on a journey. I’m about to show them something special.

I don’t want to be another line in their calendar. I don’t want to be an easily forgotten night or exactly what they expected.

I refuse to be just another show.