Sunday, January 2, 2011

Shhh... Pipe Down!

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On December 26, I was lucky to see my favorite musical of all time, “West Side Story” on Broadway. This was in the height of “Snowmageddon”, the big blizzard in New York City at the end of 2010. I was thrilled to see that the theater was full -- inclement weather has a tendency to keep people in their homes and hotel rooms, but the theater was buzzing with excitement.

I arrived at the theater with my mother and a friend about 20 minutes before the show started. We immediately headed over to the bar, and as I contemplated the purchase of wine (to warm my frozen insides), the server told me that I could take my drink inside. Score! Bonus points for giving me my wine in a souvenir sippy cup:

As I got into the theater, I noticed that in the box seats directly above the stage, there were musicians getting ready for the show, in addition to the orchestra in the pit at the foot of the stage. It occurred to me that I had never gotten a chance to hear this amazing score with a live orchestra, and I was on the edge of my seat waiting for the show to begin. As the lights dimmed, the conductor was announced by name -- how cool was that? I clapped as hard as my little hands could and settled back into my seat. The curtain flew up silently as the overture began - that delicious overture with solos and duets of strings, then drums, then brass, occasionally playing along with each other and chiming in with the actor’s whistling and snapping. It’s a quiet overture that slowly builds as the Jets & Sharks gangs become more and more threatened by one another.

It was a luscious opening of an amazing show, and it would have been even better if the girl 1 row down and 3 seats over had not been -- wait for it -- eating popcorn out of a cellophane bag.

Instead of instruments delicately playing notes, I heard the sounds of a mouth chewing popcorn. Instead of hearing the actors’ feet lightly graze the dance floor, I heard the crinkling of a snack bag. Could the theater have actually sold this monstrosity to the theatergoer, and did she honestly believe it was ok to eat during the performance?

As my inside voice quickly turned to an outside grumble (“This is not a movie theater... this shouldn’t be happening”) I knew something needed to be done -- my body knew what to do before my brain could catch up. I leaned quickly to the right, putting my weight across the unsuspecting laps of my mother and her friend, reached out and tapped the offending girl on the shoulder, and said, “Could you PLEASE not do that?” She looked shocked that I confronted her -- I’m not sure if it was shock at being caught, or if she just didn’t know the etiquette. Either way, she ate a few more bites and then dejectedly put the bag away. I prepared for some heated words to come my way at intermission, but the first act is around 90 minutes, so I’m guessing she forgot all about it.

I choose to believe she just didn’t know that live theater is not a place to eat, nor chat, nor text, nor do any of the myriad of things that people like to do when they’re seated with their friends. It would be amazing if every playbill came with a page of guidelines, like of like the “Courtesy of Contagious” campaign on the NY subways. Perhaps most people want to play by the rules but they simply don’t know what they are. So, as a public service, here are a few of the rules I abide by when going to the theater:

1) No talking during the show
2) No photography of the actors or the stage. (You can take pictures of the theater before & after the show, though.)
3) No video recordings. Ever.
4) No eating during the show.
5) If you know you’re going to cough, and need a lozenge to quiet the cough, unwrap it ahead of the show so that the wrapper doesn’t make noise.
6) Don’t talk to the people on stage (exception: “Rocky Horror Picture Show”)
7) Don’t sing along when watching a musical (exception: “Rocky Horror Picture Show”)
8) Don’t throw things at the actors (exception: “Rocky Horror Picture Show”)
9) If you’re in the front row, don’t put your feet on the stage.
10) If a cast member is coming through the audience, don’t trip them. (exception: “Rocky Horror Picture Show”) (kidding)
11) Turn off your ringer, and don’t text or accept calls during the show.
12) Try not to bad mouth the production, and certainly not an actor, while you’re in the theater. You don’t know whose mother you may be sitting near.
13) Don’t leave trash on the floor.
14) Recycle your program

I’m a sure there are rules I have missed. Can you think of any you’d like to add? Leave them in the comments section!

Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has toured nationally with plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. For more information, please visit

1 comment:

  1. And thank YOU, Erin. Let us establish these rules as a basic standard for theater etiquette. It will save SO MUCH irritation.


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