Behavioral expectations at a musical play are not on the list of things-to-learn for many people. However, they are not really all that difficult — most are common sense actually — and employing them creates a vastly more enjoyable experience for your fellow viewers. In all actuality, you may even find yourself able to more fully enjoy the play as a result, since you will be devoting more of your attention on the play than the (your) distracting behavior.

Recently, I went to see RENT at one of our local community theaters with my roommate. His behavior during the play was so distracting I found it extremely difficult to enjoy the show. I was completely embarrassed at his unabashed display of disruptive, and just plain rude, behavior. What I found most disconcerting was that he should have known better — he has been in so many plays and shows himself that I would think he would know how to act as an audience member.  I guess I thought wrong.

Dear roomie #1: just b/c you know the actor, it is NOT ok to catcall their name during the song 9:07 PM Dec 2nd . Yes, sadly, he called the actor by his REAL name both during and after the performance of the solo number. He “whooped” and “woo hoo”ed the poor guy on stage. On this note, it is important to understand that when actors put themselves into a role — all the better for the audience as we can really get into the characters if the actors have truly become them — it is very distracting to them when someone calls out their real names. As an actor, I find this extremely distracting and it is nearly impossible to stay in character when this happens. Sure, it’s a community theater production… It is a production all the same. As an audience member, I find it quite difficult to keep my focus on the show. It is no longer a fantasy I’ve immersed myself in, it’s suddenly just some people singing, dancing, and acting on a stage.

Dear roomie #2: no, it isn’t ok to ask me questions every 2 minutes about “how does this version compare to NYC?”9:09 PM Dec 2nd . Again, sadly, he asked me (during the show) no short of 50 times how each and every nuance of each and every actor and each and every song compared with the Broadway version. It really isn’t important for you to ever have seen RENT to understand this. Common sense would dictate that a community theater version of ANY play or musical is going to fall short of what you would see in a professional show. So, 50 times I had to say sotto voce, “let’s talk about it at intermission/after the show.”  It may also be apropos at this juncture to state that his idea of communicating quietly is somewhere between stage whisper and regular volume. Common sense would also clue one into the fact that I am, out of politeness, at the very least, not going to compare the community version with the professional version (which I was fortunate enough to see from front row, center before it closed on Broadway) in front of other theatergoers. It may have been good, but of course it wasn’t as good as the professional version I saw in NYC. It was a silly question at its inception… 50 times later, it became simply, “would you please shut up now?”

Dear roomie #3: no, it isn’t ok to sing along…besides you don’t know the lyrics (I know them, and i’m not singing..take a hint)9:10 PM Dec 2nd . Ok, this is one that I KNOW a lot of people have trouble with. The songs from a Broadway show are catchy — if they weren’t you’d probably never have had the opportunity to have ever heard of the show in the first place. RENT came out 14 years ago. I’m sure anyone who is even a little into musicals can sing along with a few (if not all) of the songs in the show. But again, we go to a show to watch and listen to others perform. Humming along QUIETLY might be ok, so long as you are humming so quietly that nobody, even the person sitting next to you, can hear. However, full-out singing is never acceptable (except for during the curtain call of SPAMALOT, which is sadly no longer on Broadway, when they expected the audience to join the cast in a theater-wide version of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”). Additionally, why would you even WANT to sing along when you don’t know the words? Not only are you distracting from those on stage who have worked hard learning the words (and characters, and blocking, and staging, etc) so we could hear THEM perform, you look like an idiot because you (a theater lover) don’t even know the lyrics to RENT?!?

There are many items of etiquette I did not discuss, but they are, as I said earlier, all common sense. The best rule of thumb when you are out for an evening of theater — including (non-rock) concerts, plays, musicals, opera, etc. — is to act as though you would want others to act so that you can have the best possible experience. Performing Arts were created so that spectators could remove themselves, even for a little while, from the doldrums of everyday life. If you are, by your ridiculous behavior — whether intentional or not — are distracting others in any way, you are disallowing them to do so. You are taking the experience away from us and reminding us of all the ridiculousness we have to deal with the rest of the time. In short, don’t.