Theatre Manners (Live and Movies)

Updated on November 16, 2013
E.M. asks from Phoenix, AZ
19 answers

Last night I brought my six year old to see the stage production of the Lion King. It was absolutely amazing and I am so glad we went! It is the first show of that scale that he has attended and the longest at nearly 3 hours. I had several conversations with him about manners, emphasizing that the theatre is a very special place, people pay a lot to be there, and we need to be respectful of the actors and others who put on the production. You may clap and of course laugh, but no talking while the lights are down AT ALL. So we arrived, in a timely fashion. My son is sitting next to an older lady, so I go over all of the rules to make sure he gets it. On my other side is a group of 4 women in their mid forties to mid fifties or so. The show starts, my son makes a tiny slip but is otherwise doing GREAT. Then, about ten minutes into the show, the ADULT women sitting next to me start talking. At normal conversational levels. Commenting on the costumes, the actors, the music, etc. Joking about how they were behaving badly. It was ridiculous! I was determined not to ruin the night, so I just tuned them out and focused on how my son was LOVING the show. But I was truly appalled at their behavior. Here I am trying so hard to teach my kid to behave like a civilized adult, and these grown women can't wait until intermission to comment on the little strings holding the bird puppets together? Unacceptable.
So here is my question- what do you think is acceptable in a theatre setting, live or film? And do you think there is or should be a higher standard of behavior in a live setting, particularly one that involves a much higher investment in both ticket cost and time?
I know that cultural norms vary on talking during performances (I have heard of some scenarios where it is the norm to continue a conversation at a symphony, for example), I would be interested to hear from anyone who has that perspective.

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So What Happened?

Cheysma- literally LOL at that one, thanks!
I was very involved in music when I was younger, played in many many concerts and pit orchestras up through college. I was thinking that might make me a little oversensitive, so I am glad to know my expectations are not out of line!
I would LOVE a zero tolerance movie theatre!!

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answers from Cleveland on

My daughter is 4 she's been going to movies and live shows for 2 years. Disney on Ice. Elmo live. Drive ins and regular theaters. She will sit and watch a whole show or movie without making a sound.

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answers from Raleigh on

Thank you for teaching your son the right etiquette!
From another point of view-I'm a performing, professional musician, and there is nothing more disrespectful than to look out and see endless yacking or cell phones during a live performance. People may think we, the performers, don't see that, but we do, esp in small venues.
The above is not acceptable in symphonies or the theater. In fact it's not really acceptable in a movie theater. About the only place I'll let it slide is a children's show or interactive theater. Or if I'm with my husband in a bar or similar setting where the show is background in nature.
I will not hesitate to inform an usher of the disruption. No need to cause a scene. But I have on more than one occasion asked for my money back due to continued disruption when it's really impacting my experience. I take such disruptions very seriously.

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answers from San Francisco on

What I think is acceptable is to do what you've been doing by teaching your child. The only thing you did wrong was NOT to turn to the woman/women who were talking and ask them to stop because it was a distraction. You could have done this politely and they probably would have stopped. If they didn't, then I would have asked the usher/manager to step in.

Going to the show or theater is very expensive and if someone wants to chat with their friends they should do so elsewhere.

When this happened to me at a show I was looking forward to, the people were ask to stop a couple of times and did not. The woman who was talking loudly was in a wheel chair and I think the attendant was reluctant to ask her to leave. I just went to the box office and asked for a refund so I could go to a different date and time.

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answers from Boston on

Your so much nicer than me. I would have turned to the ladies and said just this: "I'm sorry, I haven't been to a play in quite a long time, is it acceptable for us to talk during them now?"

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answers from Austin on

I have had to ask way to many people to please stop talking, put away their electronics at movies, theaters and school auditoriums.

Yes, I have left my seat to go and get an usher, but it made me so mad to miss part of the production to do this.

There is a movie theater here in Austin that will literally take you outside, not refund your money and ban you from their theaters.

There is zero tolerance for this behavior..

I love going there.

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answers from San Francisco on

People shouldn't talk during any theater performance. It's rude. You would have been justified in staring them down, or asking them to stop talking.

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answers from Denver on

Ugh. I probably would have passive/aggressively turned my head and stared at them (glared at them, more likely) until they shut up. So freakin' rude!

Good for you for teaching your son manners. Those women must have been very uncultured to have behaved like that. Can you imagine if they'd gone to the opera or ballet?!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

I don't really have any advice, but I'm glad you are teaching your son the proper way to behave in a theater. We take our daughter to movies so seldom, but we emphasize how we need to behave, and I find that even at church she doesn't understand why she has to still and pay attention when other kids are all over the place and talking and whatever. But she does pretty well and I'm glad that these rude women didn't ruin your son's theater experience.

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answers from Washington DC on

Bravo for you for teaching your son well. Keep taking him to live shows -- not enough kids get to go to these and too many kids tend to forget they are not watching TV at home and are not supposed to "interact" by talking to what they seeing going on!

As for those women: I do wish you'd spoken to them at the time, though I also understand how it can kind of be a shock, in the moment, when adults do things like that, and it leaves you speechless. I hope I'd have said, "Excuse me, please don't talk during the play." If they continued I'd have had to add, "I cannot hear the actors. Please talk in the intermission." If they still persisted (they'd have to be pretty obliviously rude to continue, though) I'd tell an usher ASAP at the intermission -- any good theatre would have a word with them. Yes, you would get the stink-eye from them and probably some comments under their breath but they deserved to be called out on it. They had no concept that they were NOT at home where they could comment as they pleased.

I've never had to get as far as getting the ushers involved, but we go to a lot of live theatre and ballet performances (professional and student) and I'm amazed how adults seem to forget how to behave in an audience these days. I've had to tell an adult in a movie theatre to put away his camera (he was filming the film, which is both illegal AND the light from his blasted screen was glaring in my eyes). Last year at a ballet (professional, yes, very expensive tickets) I was primed to have to speak to the woman next to me who was texting furiously right up until the curtain lifted -- fortunately she shut it down the instant the first person hit the stage but if she hadn't I was ready to let her hear about it. And most appallingly, I had to ask another parent at our kids' dance school to put away his phone during a performance his kid was IN! (Dad wasn't taking photos or videos because it's not allowed at all in performances for our studio -- they do let parents do all the photos and videos they want during dress rehearsals. He was clearly just checking e-mail--after all I could see what he was doing since his phone was glowing in the dark. During his own kid's show, and with his bright screen right in front of my eyes since he was sitting in front of me!)

As for scenarios where it's acceptable to talk -- Maybe in some outdoor concerts (not plays) it might be OK to hold quiet conversations, I guess, but symphonies? Even outdoors, I'd say no. Indoors, never! My husband is in two concert bands and when they play outdoors he feels it's generally OK for folks to have quiet conversations off on the sidelines. But sitting right there plopped in front of the stage and chatting out loud-- nope. The musicians CAN hear you and in a play, the actors can hear you too....

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answers from Baton Rouge on

As an actor, I find behavior such as theirs completely unacceptable. And no, it is NOT acceptable to converse during a symphony. If I buy symphony tickets, I want to hear the music, not a conversation. If you want to talk, go to a coffee shop.

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answers from Tampa on

This drives me crazy! The older I get, the more I despise large crowds because you naturally get more of this rude behavior. I very rarely go to a stage performance because the tickets ARE so expensive and it would be hard for my kids to sit through...

I even get irritated at movie theaters. I think movie tickets are too expensive to have to listen to the people in front of me cutting up and talking on their cell phone.

I remember being newly pregnant with my oldest. We had concert tickets that we had bought months before. It was a no smoking venue and I was really suffering from all-day morning sickness. There were people around us that insisted on lighting up a cigarette every time the usher was not looking. Every time I smelled the smoke, my nausea would get worse. I would get up and let the usher know and they would ask the folks to stop...which worked until the usher turned his back. It was miserable and I could have gleefully killed someone that night... Anyway, just really, really rude...

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answers from San Francisco on

No, people shouldn't talk (above a whisper) during a performance of any kind, even a movie. That's my opinion.
I still remember being at a sold out Christmas show with my then 8 year old son, at Radio City Music Hall in NY. The couple seated next to us were clearly on something, probably ecstasy. They made out and felt each other up until intermission, when I was able to get up and complain to the ushers who (thank God) asked them to leave!

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answers from Williamsport on

Of course they were being rude. It would have been OK for you to say something. Everyone around them let them act like jerks so they'll continue to do so.
My ex and I were out on a rare hard-earned date and some teens were giggling all through a quiet non-comedy. I hated myself for being too scared to comment to them for half the movie before I finally yelled, "Could you quit giggling please??!!!" And like three other people around the theater shouted "Thank You!" and they shut up.

People just get in a group and act badly. It's not OK but it's up to you how to handle or not handle.

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answers from Jacksonville on


I am not a tolerant person. If there had been someone to watch my son, I would have considered slipped out to an usher and asking them to speak to the "ladies".

I have very little tolerance for those that are inconsiderate of others, particularly at a venue with a cost. (Some school events have no charge).
I have NEVER heard of it being acceptable to continue a conversation once the show begins, but I have never been to a live Opera... so maybe it is ok there.? You learn something new every day.
I have always had the understanding that once the house lights begin to dim, you quickly end whatever conversation you were having so as to be done before the curtain goes up.

And good for you for teaching your son proper etiquette. :)


Oh, and by the way. It isn't just the other members of the audience who deserve the consideration of being quiet, but the performers as well. So for those "entitled ones" who don't think it is that special... so what! The performers still deserve your attention, not to compete with your noise.

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answers from St. Louis on

shame on those ladies.

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answers from Washington DC on

oh, i'd be very unhappy. and i'd probably say something- not a passive-aggressive hiss to my kid about SOME people, or a call to arms, but something brief and courteous like 'excuse me, it's difficult for us to hear the performance while you're speaking' and hope for the best.
it's a pity the ushers didn't deal with her. once upon a time they actually did that.
good for you for making sure your son, at least, had a wonderful time.

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answers from Seattle on

"shut up. I can't hear the show."
I think you should be quiet at shows. People paid good money to go and see them and don't want to listen to some biddy/kid/or teen that can't keep their trap shut.
(universal "you" of course!)

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answers from New York on

I'm glad you enjoyed The Lion King. I took my girls years ago and thought it was fabulous.

I completely agree that there is a lack of respect in theaters these days, and I do feel that a higher standard should be set for live performances because both the performers and audience are being annoyed. My daughters are in band and chorus and I constantly see people on cell phones playing games and texting. It's disrespectful to the performers and the lights are distracting to the audience. NO, it's not ok to give your little kid an electronic device to play with.

Unfortunately there's not much you can do unless your lucky enough to have ushers who will handle the situation.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

It's frustrating for sure. Many people that go to the theater a lot of times get used to being there. They forget that other people came to see the show and want to have quiet to do that.

I'm sorry you didn't get to completely enjoy the production. I imagine it was very good.

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