On Theatrical Etiquette (and the Lack Thereof)

Riot at Covent Garden Theatre in 1763
Riot at Covent Garden Theatre in 1763

The unbelievable tale of the chucklehead and his charger set the internet abuzz over the past few days, especially amongst my set in the theatre world, as you can imagine.

Just to be a crank and play devil’s advocate (as I generally do want to strangle rude audience members myself, like most of you do): how about this proposition? For the vast majority of the western theatre’s history — 2,000 years of it — the PEOPLE have reigned supreme. That means the audience could eat, shout, fight, be publicly and loudly intoxicated, engage in sex acts, etc etc etc during the performance. Only for the past 150 or so years has the theatre been treated like some sort of elite, holy shrine where the onus is on the customers to make their humble and silent obeisance to the sacrosanct production, the bloody art with a capital A. Maybe, just maybe it is the natural order of things to be unruly and noisome and vulgar in public space. Come to think of it, I would be much more likely to attend theatre (I almost never go any more) if I knew I could bloody come and go as I damn well pleased. You want the audience to shut up and stay in their seats? Then get to the sword fight, man!

A couple of friends yesterday made the valid point: EVERYONE paid for their tickets ($160 in the Mezzanine, someone pointed out) — everyone deserves to get what they paid for. True. I can only rebut: just try and control everyone. Just try. It’s not going to get better in this century. Technology is changing the culture. It’s Quixotic to attempt to change the AUDIENCE, i.e. all of humanity. You want to survive? Change the THEATRE.

One comment

  1. Especially true in America where people will glare at you for clearing your throat.
    A friend of mine told me a story about touring in Europe and vendors were walking the aisles selling food and drinks like you’d see at a sports game.
    I mean, really, when did it all get so precious?


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