History in the Making

Friendly Theatre Etiquette

I’ve written on theatre etiquette before. It is one of my biggest pet peeves, if I’m being honest. Going to the theatre is not a regular occurrence for most of us, and the afternoon or evening can be spoiled by a few selfish people. This is the time of the year when we all head out to see The Nutcracker or pantos or holiday plays, and we all want to enjoy ourselves. Get into the holiday spirit and use these tips to make sure that you are the best theatre guest you can be this year!

Theatre Etiquette

Most theatre etiquette “faux pas” are not because someone truly didn’t know that they shouldn’t have done something, it is that they didn’t care to think of anyone else. You KNOW that you are supposed to turn off your cellphone so that it doesn’t ring and distract anyone, that’s not a novel concept. So, this holiday season, go out of your way to think of everyone else’s theatre experience! Just as you want to enjoy your time at the theatre, so does everyone else- and your behaviour can make or break it for them.

The Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Nutcracker with little polar bears

Bringing Children

What I love about the holiday season is that so many theatre experiences are open to children! I believe that we should introduce children to dance, music, and theatre as early as possible, and that we should take every chance we get. Most plays are appropriate for children, and The Nutcracker is the most child friendly ballet out there. However, make sure that your child can sit for the length of the performance, or if not, that you are sitting closer to the end of the row! I completely respect parents who choose to take their child outside for a few moments and then come back in when they are ready again, and smart seating choices make that easier. Also, make sure that they are fed and watered and have the chance to go to the washroom! (I mean, we all had those emergencies where we said we went because we were 5, but at least take them before…) Yes, depending on how young they are, they might not remember it anyways, but let’s give them a chance to actually enjoy it!

And for those sitting near families- don’t huff and puff everytime a child moves or makes a noise. I was that little 4 year old girl who chattered incessantly throughout my first Nutcracker and thankfully the wonderful woman sitting close was just happy to see me enjoying it. Not only could your negative behaviour ruin the child’s experience, you’ve just made the rest of the family feel awkward (as well as other patrons). Accept that certain performances have a higher likelihood of children attending and either come prepared for that or skip it and wait for the next production!


I’ve yet to see a performance in the last 5-10 years that didn’t have a warning prior to the performance about turning off your cellphone, but there is always someone who forgets. TAKE OUT YOUR PHONE LIKE EVERYONE ELSE AND CHECK. Not only is it distracting to the patrons around you (and possibly the entire theatre, depending on the acoustics), it can be disastrous for performers. Dancers are trained to take things in stride, but sometimes things that are that jarring can push you off your balance. Also, unless you are specifically told TO take flash photography or video recordings, you can’t. The production rights belong to someone that isn’t you, and flash photography can actually lead to dancers and actors getting hurt. Do you want someone to break an ankle because you absolutely needed your own photo of the Sugar Plum Fairy? Before and after the performance, share your ‘grams and tweets and Facebook posts with the appropriate hashtags to let people know that you love the show, but during, make sure it is completely off! (And yes, we can see the light from inside your jacket or by your crotch. Don’t make this more awkward.)

Ballet ticket and program

Plan Ahead

Do not plan on strolling into the theatre at 7:29 for a 7:30 show. You need to allow time to actually find and get to your seat, and if you are allowed to enter late (not all theatres allow it), you will be disrupting several rows of patrons all because you couldn’t plan ahead. Allow the time to get to the venue itself. If you take public transportation, allow for a late bus or train. And if you are driving yourself, you will probably need to find parking with the other hundreds of patrons. This isn’t a surprise, and yet every single time I go to the ballet, there is someone who is shocked that they had to park 4 blocks away and are now late. If you are late, you very well may have to wait for an appropriate break when an usher will let you in. And of course, have your ticket ready!

Photobooth at RWB's Barre After Hours

Dress Appropriately

This is truly a personal pet peeve, but the performers that you will see have spent hours, months, years, and possibly decades honing their craft. They have put a great deal of effort into their appearance for the show, so why shouldn’t you? I’m not saying you need to wear a ballgown and a jewelled opera cape (but if you do, you will be my hero…) but wear something nicer than jean and a sweatshirt, or even leggings. We have so few events where we can get dressed up these days, and putting effort into how you dress is a nice thing to do for the people around you. Pull out your dress pants and shirt, or your cocktail dress, and put the effort into the afternoon or evening! It is mindboggling to walk into a gorgeous theatre for an evening at the ballet to see someone in ripped jeans and a hoodie…


Above everything else, be polite to others! Hold a door, let someone know that they dropped something- errant mittens are upon us!-. or share a smile. Don’t go out of your way to shoot someone a nasty look, or mutter something under your breath, or cut someone off. You should be doing this year round, but this is specifically a time of year when we try to think of others’ needs, and no one needs your bad attitude. We all have those terrible, no good, very bad days, and if that happens to be the day you are due to attend the theatre, make sure that you put it aside and come back to it when you get home if need be. We all get very uncomfortable when the person next to us is continually huffing and muttering and sighing. Don’t be that person. For all of us, just don’t. We all deserve to enjoy our time at the theatre, and being polite is a good way to achieve that!

Are you planning to see anything at the theatre this holiday season? What theatre etiquette is most important to you?

The Historian
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