How’s your Broadway theater etiquette?
Whether I see a riveting play, an award-winning musical, or an Off-Broadway spoof, I love watching talented newcomers and veteran performers take the stage and command an audience. But what I don’t love is sitting near someone who doesn’t know or adhere to the basic etiquette that should be a given when attending a Broadway show. Latecomers, paper-rustlers, and ice-chewers, I’m looking at you.
In this guide to Broadway theater etiquette, newbies will learn what to do and what not to do when they attend their first show on a New York stage (or anywhere, for that matter). And for longtime show fans, it’s never too late to brush up on Broadway theater etiquette.
Dress like you’re going to the theater.
I know that there’s no official dress code for Broadway, but, (and a big but), don’t dress like you’re going to the gym. A tux and evening gown aren’t necessary, but guys, please wear pants (and not sweats or joggers). Jeans are fine with a decent shirt and shoes, and if the temps are cooler, sport a nice jacket. Ladies tend to dress a little less casual than men, but the big no-nos – at least in my book – are sweats, flip flops (unless the dressy kind with baubles and beads), athletic tanks, and anything that you wouldn’t be caught wearing in front of your mother. Enough said.
Tip: Theaters tend to be freezing, so bear that in mind when selecting your wardrobe.
Arrive at the show on time.
I understand the traffic jam that is Manhattan (why I recommend taking public transit whenever possible), but I never understand how anyone can come to a performance 20 minutes late. Show time is printed on the tickets. Here’s a little info: Broadway shows usually don’t start past 8 p.m., so showing up at 8:20 means that you’re most definitely not on time! Get there in enough time to tend to matters (next point) and sit in your seat before that curtain rises or the overture begins. When anyone is late, not only does it disrupt the show and distract the performers (depending on where you’re sitting), but crawling over people who are trying to watch is far from good etiquette. So just be on time. Or early! That’s even better.
Tip: Most Broadway doors open 30 minutes before curtain time. Off-Broadway theaters might be more like 15-20 minutes before.
Use the rest room before the curtain.
If you haven’t been to the theater before, I’m here to tell you that it’s always a good idea to take care of bathroom biz before show time. First acts can run long (75 to 90 minutes), and some shows don’t have any intermission at all, and there’s nothing worse than climbing over 18 people to get to the rest room (yes, that happened to me).
Tip: If you do have to get up from your seat in the middle of a show, try doing it (and returning) during a scene change out of respect for everyone.
Don’t wear too much perfume or cologne.
You’ll be close to your fellow theater-goers and there’s no masking body odor, even with perfume. Come to the show clean, and if you must wear fragrance, go light on the Paco Rabanne.
Tip: If you can smell yourself (good or bad), then everyone else can smell you too.
Silence your cell phone.
I’d think this one is a no-brainer, but I swear, every show I attend, someone’s phone rings, and it seems to happen during the quietest moment on the stage. Or, someone is texting, checking email, or scanning Instagram in the middle of a scene. Believe it or not, that happens all the time. All I can say is, please don’t. Cell phones are distracting to the audience, so out of respect for the everyone around you (who probably paid upwards of a $100 per seat), watch the show.
Plus, the actors can see cell phones too. They spend years honing their craft, and finally, a few of the lucky ones make it to the Great White Way. So for their sakes alone, make calls before you enter, and get in the habit of turning off your ringer as soon as you take your seat.
Tip: You’ll have a 15-minute intermission to check messages if you’re waiting for something important. Or, step outside in the lobby at intermission to make a call, if you must.
Don’t take photos during the performance.
Photos and video recording aren’t allowed during performances, so don’t even try it. Otherwise, an usher will come over and reprimand you and disrupt all those sitting near you. That’s also an embarrassing situation that can easily be avoided.
Tip: If you must, snap a quick selfie or a photo of the program before the show begins.
Don’t eat during the show.
I can’t possibly forget that performance when I saw Candice Bergen and Alan Alda in Love Letters, and sat next to a woman who, of course, had no time for dinner before the play. She thought it would be a good idea to munch on something loud and crunchy during some of the most pin-drop quiet, poignant scenes. And, as if the pretzels weren’t enough, she then pulled out a chocolate bar, which she proceeded to unwrap, break, and chew for at least fifteen minutes. Luckily, this was my second time seeing this show. I missed half of the first act since I couldn’t concentrate, thanks to this lady gnawing on her movie theater concessions.
Tip: If you don’t have time to grab dinner pre-show, then eat a snack in the lobby (you’ll have plenty of time if you arrive 30 minutes before curtain).
Don’t talk during scenes.
Another given here for Broadway theater etiquette, but save the chatter for before and after the show. If you must say something important, whisper between scenes and keep it brief – to a sentence or two.
I understand if you’re on a date and feeling amorous, but you’ll have plenty of time to snuggle after the show when you have dinner at that romantic Italian restaurant. (I suggest a booth, if available.) The people behind you can’t see through two heads and would like to watch the show too. What’s more, they probably paid as much for their tickets as you did, maybe even more, so be considerate.
Even if you’re not fond of the show you chose to see (it does happen), applaud the actors, musicians, and crew. These artists work incredibly hard to deliver a near-perfection performance eight times a week. Not every show is for everyone, but still, out of respect and appreciation for the art form, put your hands together just to say “Thanks for doing what you do.” And at the end, you’ll notice some folks rising to their feet and cheering (standing ovation), and it’s pretty standard nowadays. If you liked the play or musical and felt entertained, join them. Clap, whistle, cheer, etc. I promise – you’ll feel great afterward!
Broadway theater etiquette is super important. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments.
And here’s a list of all the shows currently running on Broadway.