Theatre Etiquette 101


When I first started coming to New York as a little girl, going to the theatre was truly an event. My mom, who was not one to dress up, would always put on a nice outfit and help me get ready. We would put on our Sunday best and walk to the theatre in the hopes of finding a bit of escape or, perhaps, a chance to reflect on something more difficult. Going to the theatre was different from going to the movies or going out to dinner. What truly made it different, aside from the form of entertainment presented, was the fact that it felt like something “grown ups” did. Men and women took the time to appreciate the art form and, most importantly, they showed it the respect it deserved. That means they showed up on time. They honored the beauty of the theatre by matching the lovely aesthetic with their own adornment. Most importantly, they left their work and lives behind them and focused on the show.

There were no sippy cups for wine. There were no cell phones. It was simply a chance for people to sit back, relax, and be entertained, communally.

Look, I get it. The times have changed. When I was going to the theatre as a kid in the early nineties it was VERY different from when my parents were going as children in the late fifties. The one commonality is the fact that cell phones were not really something people had to worry about going off in the middle of a show. I remember the first time I ever heard a cell phone go off in the theatre it was during a performance of Dance of the Vampires in 2002. The woman next to me got a phone call, answered it, and said very loudly “Oh yes, I’m seeing a show right now. Michael Crawford is singing very loudly…I can’t hear you!!!” That was when I knew we were in for some changes in regards to theatre etiquette! I guess it could always be worse.

Recently an audience member at Hand to God on Broadway decided that walking onto the stage and plugging his phone into an outlet that was A PART OF THE SET was appropriate. Let’s just say this: it most certainly was not.

For many of you, life without cellphones is something you cannot even imagine. Nor can you imagine a world where you felt the need to dress up for the theatre. And look, I am not an elitist. I fully believe that it is important for people to wear what makes them feel most uniquely themselves. However, I have put together a list of my etiquette suggestions for the modern theatergoer — in hopes that we can remember that we are all in this together!

  • Wear clothing in which you would be proud to be photographed. It will make going to the theatre feel like an event. That means no ratty shorts, no flip-flops and nothing you wouldn’t want a date to see you in! And bonus — you never know who you are going to run into! You might want to grab a photo with a handsome actor at the stage door!


Kate Lumpkin on Opening Night
Kate Lumpkin on Opening Night
Kate Lumpkin on a typical (non-opening) night out at the theatre
Kate Lumpkin on a typical (non-opening) night out at the theatre













  • If you must have snacks in the theatre, do not eat them loudly during the show. The person sitting next to you will give you side eye if you unwrap you Snickers bar during the opening number.
  • Many theatres not only allow beverages now, they also provide them. If you plan on drinking during the show be subtle about it. Also, know your limits if you are drinking an alcoholic beverage. You can be (should be) kicked out of the theatre if you get too rowdy. 
  • Turn your cellphone off. Just turn it off. Don’t put it on silent. Don’t check it during the slower numbers. Don’t take pictures. Don’t record the show on your voice notes. JUST TURN IT OFF. You paid a large amount of money to be here (though, if you want to pay a little less, our insider ticket discount page might help!) The person next to you paid a large amount of money for theirs, too — they do not want to watch your face light up every time you receive a text message or miss a call. If you know that you can’t go for three hours without your cell phone — don’t go to the theatre.
  • Show up on time. Check your tickets several times and know when the show begins. Not all shows start at 8:00 PM anymore. Some start at 7:00 PM or 7:30 PM. Often, performances start at different times on different days of the week. There is nothing worse than missing the first hour of a show because you failed to look at your tickets! I always like to be there thirty minutes early. That way I can settle into my seat, go to the bathroom if I need to, and read through my Playbill! I love reading bios and knowing more about the actors I am going to see! 
  • Be respectful. Everyone has different opinions when viewing theatre. Some people might highly enjoy a show while others are bored out of their minds. If you find that you are not enjoying yourself, be respectful of those around you who are. There is no need to talk about your dislike. Simply wait until intermission or the end of the show and then leave, quietly. You never know who you are sitting next to. It might be the mother of the lead actress! It might be a producer or director associated with the production who you might be auditioning for in a couple of weeks. Because of this, I follow the “TWO BLOCK RULE.” I will not discuss a show until I am at least two full blocks away from the theatre. It protects me from putting my foot in my mouth in front of the creative team or someone’s loved ones.

If we all followed these rules I think the theatre would be a little more enjoyable for everyone. What have I missed? Do you all have any rules that make your theatre going experience easier and a bit kinder to everyone else? Leave a comment below and let me know!

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Kate Lumpkin

Freelance Casting Assistant/Associate
Kate Lumpkin is a NY based casting assistant/associate, audition coach, style blogger, writer and performer. Follow her adventures on

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16 thoughts on “Theatre Etiquette 101”

  1. Be courteous to usher (usually volunteers) and house managers as to the rules of the Theatre and/or production. They are just following orders to make it enjoyable for ALL who are attending a show and don’t want to start an argument or have a lengthy conversation about YOU being approached for NOT following those pre-set rules.

  2. Be generous to others at the stagedoor. Do not be arrogant or condescending to others. No pushing. If you wish to have your playbill/CD/poster autographed, please be polite about holding it out for a signature. Say, “*name*, you were amazing, can you please sign this/these? Thank you.” Please DO NOT say, “Sign this.” If it is crowded, and you can’t reach the front, DO NOT reach over people. Ask them politely to get the signature. STAGE DOOR ETTIQUITE PEOPLE!!

  3. DO go to the bathroom before curtain and/or during intermission so you DO NOT have to leave during the performance. It’s distracting to those around you and-depending on where you’re sitting-to the actors onstage.

    Since you asked…let’s talk about the standing ovation. The standing O is meant to be a sign of unparalleled praise. It should be left for only the BEST performances. Bernadette Peters and Nathan Lane may be no strangers to the standing O, but even they don’t deserve them EVERY night (well maybe Miss Peters). Not every show is a “Wicked” or an “Anything Goes.” We’ve already paid many pretty pennies to see them. How much more so they need? Sure appreciation for a job well done is appropriate, but that translates to a rousing round of applause. To bring me to my feet it needs to be a masterful job–a performance that touched me at my core, that changed me! And believe me good performers know when a standing ovation was truly earned!

    1. Amen to that. Standing ovations cease to be special when everyone at every show just stands to clap. Besides blocking the curtain call view from those who don’t feel the performance is worth the standing O, it sometimes simply causes a wave effect. Someone stands so they can see curtain call, which causes someone else to stand, etc. I see A LOT of theater and I reserve my highest praise for a performance that really is so amazing there is nothing else to do but stand. (Sometimes a standing O is directed toward one performer, who, upon taking their bow, receives that gesture.)

      We expect performances to be solid and good. We may even expect excellent performances when attending theater on The Great White Way. When something is at, or below, expectation, does it deserve a standing ovation? I think not.

      I’ve witnessed a trend in regional theater and local, non-professional, theater that suggests people are “trained” to give a standing ovation to every little plugger up there on stage. It’s an outpouring of support and encouragement, especially for really young performers. However, giving performers a false sense of superiority for mediocre work, or making audience members feel they have to stand or risk not showing support, is not a way to develop discernment or good taste.

  4. I agree that the standing ovation should be reserved for the truly great performances. I’ve had to tell some of my theater “friends” (who expect me at all of their shows but have nothing but excuses when they skip mine), “You and the show were fine, but a standing ovation is for remarkable performances.”

    Other areas–Please, dress decently. I don’t need to see body parts hanging out of shirts, blouses, pants, or shorts. Bathe. Wear some deodorant and clean clothes. Show some pride, for gosh sakes.

    TURN OFF THAT CELL PHONE; I have yet to follow through on what I’ve been tempted to do, but at some point I fear I am going to break character and publicly castigate someone who can’t stay off their electronic Mommy’s nipple while the show is going on. It’s as rude as people who talk to each other throughout the show.

    Arrive on time if not early, especially if you need special seating. One of the most unpopular theater patrons I know in my city is known for arriving at 7:59 for 8:00 shows, in her wheelchair, WITH HER SUPPORT DOG. Then she gets all hacked off about where she and her entourage are placed. “Oh God, so-and-so has a ticket for tonight. Expect a 15-minute hold.”

    I love the “two block rule”. I’m going to try to adapt it to my city’s theaters.

    Don’t ask my opinion if you can’t handle honesty.

    Reserve any verbal venom for those directly responsible. Sometimes it is not the fault of the usher, ticket person, or house manager.

    If you think the technical personnel have done a really good job, find them and say so. You’d be surprised how infrequently they receive praise, and how much they appreciate it. I’ve met a lot more good performers than quality light, sound, stage or costume techs, stage managers, conductors, or musicians.

  5. What about women who douse themselves in cheap perfume? I would rather be next to someone sipping on a coke then ending up with a head from over powering perfume because some woman as literally showered in it

    1. It’s not just women who seem to bathe in perfume. I’ve been near many men who wear tons of cologne, about 25% of them really old guys and the rest your basic metrosexuals. The latter often also feature hair dripping with mousse.

  6. If your first demand is that people wear “nice” clothes to the theatre than yes my dear you are an elitist, not everyone can afford a ticket, let alone some fancy clothes to impress people they don’t know and probably don’t like, it is what causes people to not go to the theatre and is why theatre is dying a slow death, sorry if the audience isn’t as pretty as you, sorry if you feel like your chance to play dress up is ruined by a guy in a t-shirt.

    1. M–We’re not asking that people show up for the theater in full evening dress. Just wear something clean, decent, and showing a little respect for all the time the producing theater and its people have put into creating the show. Is it so hard to put on something beyond a t-shirt, torn jeans, and beat-up sneakers? Save the scruffy stuff for your home.

  7. It shouldn’t need to be said, but please no talking during the show unless there is some degree of audience participation to the performance. Even whispers carry to the stage. It’s enormously distracting to both the performers and your fellow audience members. And there’s little worse than getting to an emotional or pivotal moment in the story and hearing, “Psstssssptsstttpppsst!” It can wait.

    1. I do agree somewhat to no talking during the show as it does distract those around you and it does not show respect to the actors. However, if one is visually impaired, it is important to them to know the setting of a particular scene, costumes, a funny ‘visual’ , etc and how that is accomplished is by being told what is happening. Having said that, when description is done, it must be done with respect to others around you. It is imperative for me to have description because without that, I would be lost. If people around me hear a part of the description, they should 1. figure out that the reason for the talking is for me to know what is going on because I am visually impaired, or 2. to ask respectfully of why a description is needed and then accept it as reality that they are sitting next to someone who is dependent upon the verbal to enjoy the show as much as them.

  8. Exclude food, drink and the use of mobiles, via the contract that is created when a theatre ticket is sold. Impose damages on those who breach it, payable in part to the theatre and in part to the person sitting next to the offender. Provide in the contract that the actors may elect to stop performing when a mobile flashes or rings. As for the insidious practice of the audience drinking wine, it smells like fermentation to those nearby, and no one should be forced to sit next to a person affected by alcohol.

    1. Sometimes the wine helps us get through painful shows which we cannot leave for various reasons. Sometimes it gets a talkative audience member to fall asleep.

      All I ask is moderation. Show some respect for the performers, staff, crew, and producing theater.

      The only absolute I have regards cell phones–turn them off, leave them off at least until intermission, then turn them off again. God help you if it rings and you answer it, or if you ignore it and it rings a second time.

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