14 Pieces of Theatre Etiquette
Tips and tricks for everyone to improve their theatre viewing experience!
What is Theatre Etiquette?
We believe in the magic of theatre, and that magic is for everyone. Still, there is such a thing as theatre etiquette—and general know-how—when you decide to take the leap and see a show. Below, you'll find some general guidelines and pro tips to make the most out of your trip to the theatre!
BEFORE YOU GET TO THE THEATRE
1. Use the restroom.
Lines for the restrooms at the theatre are notoriously long, not to mention the bathrooms often sit on a lower basement level or a mezzanine level, which can mean many stairs (not always great for young children or guests with mobility issues). Use the restroom before arrival–you’ll be happy you did.
2. Leave big bags at home (or at the station in a locker).
If you can, try not to bring large backpacks or shopping bags to the theatre. Suggestion: if possible, rent a locker for larger items at a nearby train station before coming to the theatre. Rows in a Tokyo theatre are often close together, and seats can feel snug. The less baggage the better. If you must bring a larger bag and have no other storage options available to you, please see the front of house staff to inquire if they can hold it in the lobby area for you to retrieve once the show is over.
3. Dress to impress.
There is no official dress code to attend a Tokyo International Players (TIP) show, meaning you won’t be turned away from the theatre for dressing too casually. However, theatre can be a special occasion. Think of what you might wear out for a dinner event. If in doubt, aim towards ‘smart casual’ for comfort. (Side note: theatres can be cold, so you may wish to bring a sweater.)
WHEN YOU GET TO THE THEATRE
4. Doors open half an hour before curtain.
Ticket holders gain access to the theatre approximately half an hour before the start of the performance (though this might vary slightly depending on the needs of a particular performance–your patience is appreciated if the doors open a few minutes late!). The line outside the theatre may actually be quite long at this point, so it’s not a problem to come a little later, so long as you arrive before the printed time on your ticket. Which reminds us: Don’t be late (meaning after the advertised starting time of the performance). It is becoming more common for shows to not allow late seating, which means you’d have to watch the show on a monitor in the lobby (if one is available, as not all theatres have these) until intermission (or for the length of the show if it’s only one act).
5. Choose the right entrance line.
When you arrive at the theatre there may be more than one line formed at the entrance, and it is helpful to join the correct line. Typically, one line is meant for attendees who have their tickets in hand (or on a digital device) and another line covers the box office for people who need to pick up their tickets on site. Ask badged volunteers at the door about which line is which if you are unsure of where you should be..
6. While the lights are still up….
Read over your program for performance information. Sometimes the director includes information that contextualizes what you’re about to see. You’ll also learn: a bit about the director, the cast, and the TIP community. Oh–and once again, use the restroom!
7. No photos.
No photography or recording are permitted during the performance (except by those that are working directly with the performance, and they will have an area marked off for their equipment to help keep their distraction to a minimum). It’s unlawful to distribute recordings that are not approved under the copyright agreement between the owner of the play’s rights and TIP, and distracting to the performers. So if you want to snap a photo, take it before the show starts, during intermission, or after the show!
8. Keep the doors and aisles clear for foot traffic–for the safety of everyone!
For the small bags that you did bring, secure them under your seat or in front of you, especially if you’re seated on the aisle. Performers may use the aisles as entrances and exits, and you wouldn’t want to be the reason they trip! Tokyo theatres can have narrow aisles. In the case of an emergency, a fast and efficient evacuation from the room is of utmost importance. Similarly to an airplane, if you need to evacuate, please leave your items behind and quickly and calmly move through the exits. Congested walkways during intermission can slow the audience trying to go outside or use the restroom, causing a delay to our scheduled ending time.
9. Turn off your phone.
This could be the most important rule in theatre etiquette in the age of smart devices–turn OFF your phone (and/or smartwatch or any other devices that have alarms/glow). Not vibrate. Not silent. Alarms can still go off on those settings, not to mention that your phone can still light up. The sounds and lights distract your fellow audience members and the performers onstage, so no texting, and don’t use your phone as a flashlight to flip through your program. Remember: This is live theatre—not a movie. The actors can hear and see you.
10. The pre-show announcement includes real rules.
Shows have gotten creative with their pre-show announcements. Some sport accents or time-period-themed jokes. Some main points to make note of:
All ask you to turn off your phones (which we already covered),
Unwrap your candies. Unwrapping candies, mints, and snacks of any kind is a real thing. If you think you’ll need one in the next 90 minutes, unwrap it. The consumption of larger items (snacks, sandwiches, etc) is for intermission and should be done in the lobby area (NOT in the seats of the theatre). The crinkling of wrappers can really ruin the performances for others around you and the talent.
Sit back and relax. When they say “sit back,” they mean it. Leaning forward can block the view of the person behind you, which blocks the view of the person behind them when they adjust. It’s a domino effect you don’t want to catalyze.
Please refrain from consuming beverages that cannot be re-capped in the theatre (such as a bottle of water or tea). This is a normal rule to help keep bottles from spilling over the theatre seats/floors, equipment, or others in attendance for the performance. There’s a reason why live theatre floors are not sticky like a cinema or sports stadium- they’re not spilled all over!
11. When should I applaud?
Excellent question, which can depend on the country! In the US (as opposed to London’s West End, for example), entrance applause—when an actor walks onstage for the first time—is common for certain high-profile stars. If you’re at a musical, applaud following each musical number. For musicals and straight plays, blackouts cue applause. If a scene ends, but there is no blackout, follow the lead of the rest of the audience.
12. Stay quiet throughout the show.
Talking during a performance is one of the most distracting offenses of theatre etiquette. Please don’t turn to your neighbor and ask what’s going on–hold out until intermission. The more you talk, the more the people around can’t hear the people onstage. If you’re attending with a young child, it’s a good idea to arrive early and explain the story to your little one before the show starts. If you can choose your seats, it might be a good idea to sit near an entrance in case the little one has a sudden need for outburst (verbally or need to use the toilet, etc). Suggestion: challenge them to the quiet game. While the lights are off, we can’t make any sound! If you’re attending a show with music you know and love, that’s great! But save the sing-a-long for your next karaoke night.
DURING INTERMISSION AND AFTER THE SHOW
13. Keep your comments neutral or positive.
Everyone is entitled to their opinion. Still, we recommend that while inside (and very close to) the theatre, you keep commentary in neutral-to-positive territory. You never know what director or actor’s family/friends/colleagues/etc are sitting nearby and listening.
14. Quiet conversations may be taken outside.
Out of respect for our community we try to keep groups small and use an interpersonal distance voice outside the theatre. Please note that some theatres do not allow for congregation and conversation on the street outside the venue. Please be respectful if you are asked to be more quiet or move on–it’s often due to the locality of the neighbors and trying to avoid police visits due to noise complaints.
That’s it! You’re equipped and ready. Go have fun and enjoy the show!
–Based on "15 Pieces of Theatre Etiquette" by Ruthie Fierberg for Playbill.com