Going to the Theater in New York? Here’s What NOT To Do

Going to the theater in New York? Then you have to know… what not to do.

That’s not just to avoid irking fellow theater patrons. (In a decade of managing New York City theaters, the vast majority of complaints I received from patrons regarded the conduct of other patrons!). It’s also to avoid getting yelled at by the people on stage: Hugh Jackman, Stanley Tucci, Patti Lupone, and Billy Crystal  all have recently stopped their shows to confront audience members they found to be distracting (talk about embarrassing!).

To get the most out of the experience, here are a few things not to do while attending the theater.

1) Don’t… neglect to read your ticket carefully

How to act—when you’re the audience member—at the theater in New York

Performance schedules can vary, so don’t assume you know when and where your show will be—even if it’s the 100th theater performance you’ve been to! And remember, while box office mistakes are rare, they can happen. It’s particularly important to inspect tickets purchased via the Internet, where the potential for confusion is much greater.

2) Don’t… be late

The show must go on… on time. Show up late, and not only will you miss some of the performance, but the patrons that you climb over to reach your seat will not appreciate your arrival.

Furthermore, every production determines its own later-seating policy. So if you’re late, you might not even be admitted until intermission.

3) Don’t… leave your cell phone/Blackberry/PDA on

Nothing kills a dramatic moment faster than a blaring ringtone. When you’re the culprit, you instantly make enemies with everyone in the theater. And no, you’re not hiding anything by covertly checking your smart phone during the performance: The light from the device will distract others.

4) Don’t… make noise—any noise

Including, but not limited to: talking, singing along, gum smacking (our pet peeve!), snoring, or translating for your foreign relatives. Distracting sounds make it impossible for your neighbors to focus on the performance. And they quickly lead to nasty conflicts between patrons.

Simply can’t keep from saying to your seat mate how great the performance is? Then make your comment—concisely—during an applause break.

5) Don’t… eat during the performance (it’s not the movies!)

Eating might be fine at the cinema, but it is not acceptable at the theater—the intimate, somewhat-formal setting means the noise and commotion are just too disruptive. Find out the show’s running time in advance, eat before it if you must, and, yes, prepare to endure 90 minutes without chowing down.

6) Don’t… take photos (or video) of the performance

Follow these etiquette rules… and enjoy your theater experience!

And not just because it’s rude. First, it’s illegal, and most shows take the copyright laws very seriously. Secondly, a flash photo isn’t just incredibly disruptive. It also can be a hazard to the performers, especially while they’re dancing.

7) Don’t… ignore the instructions of theater staff

Even if you don’t understand why you’re getting the instructions, follow them. Most concern either safety issues (i.e. the bag in the aisle that someone can trip over, or anything placed on a balcony railing, where it may fall and hurt a person seated below) or courtesy to other patrons.  And remember: As in any service industry, when a customer is uncooperative or rude, they have a much lower chance of obtaining assistance from the staff.

8) Don’t… attend the theater if you’re feeling unwell

This will not only make it difficult for you to enjoy the performance, but can have serious consequences if you become ill or require medical attention mid-show. If you have an ongoing health issue, come sufficiently rested and prepared (i.e. bring necessary medication, candy or juice for blood-sugar maintenance, a snack if required, etc.).

Insider tip: While the official policy is “no refunds, no exchanges,” most shows have a “past-date” policy to accommodate missed performances. This courtesy is always subject to availability (so don’t request a subsequent “primetime” performance, like one on weekends or holidays), and by necessity they’re arranged very last-minute. Always save your original tickets to present to the box office.

Two final “don’ts”: Don’t miss an opportunity to attend the theater. And don’t forget to give yourself over completely to the excitement and magic of a performance. When you do, you’ll likely be rewarded with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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