Theater Etiquette 2016
Once upon a time, going to the theater was an event. People dressed up, mostly because the well-heeled patrons were more interested in seeing each other than whatever was onstage. Even when people started paying more attention to the show, the tradition of putting on one’s best still prevailed.
Today, people attend theater dressed in whatever they find comfortable or (in their minds) fashionable. This includes shorts and torn jeans. But let’s face it, those torn jeans are still filling the seats.
Once upon a time, people who refreshed themselves at the bar before the show or during intermission were required to finish their drinks before returning to their seats. They socialized, exchanging pleasure and disappointment, as well as expectations for the next act, ditched their drinks and sat down.
Now, many happily sip while enjoying the show. This is fine, except when they insist on stirring the ice in their cup while they watch. If they want to have a snack along with their drink, this may entail tearing and unwrapping, with the attendant noise.
Once upon a time, applause was reserved for the end of the show or a truly exceptional performance. In some countries, opera stars might even be called upon to repeat an aria if the applause was sufficient.
Nowadays many in the audience eagerly applaud as soon as their favorite star walks onstage, well before the actor has done anything worthy of acclaim. Why? Possibly, the applause is all about demonstrating the ability to recognize (with the help of publicity and the program) the noteworthy. One wonders how the other, apparently lesser known actors feel.
Once upon a time, applause was sufficient to express appreciation and approval. A truly exceptional show or performance might occasion a standing ovation.
Today standing ovations are so common at the end of a show that if a musical doesn’t get one, it’s a sure thing that musical will close soon. Standing or seated, people still applaud enthusiastically. They also yell and hoot. From time to time, a shrill whistle pierces the house. Has someone hit a home run or made a touchdown?
People are probably no more rude today than they have ever been. It’s our standards of what constitutes rudeness that change. As long as we do not distinguish between the bleachers and the balcony, we’ll have to put up with the torn jeans and whistling.