Release The Theatre Ninja!

The Boston Globe recently had an article on theatre etiquette listing strategies for audience members to use when attending performances to avoid causing any problems and to deal with those that arise. It ends noting that a cinema in the UK has started to employ lycra clad “ninja” to sneak up on ask patrons to be quiet.

What I found most interesting was a comment on the Globe article made by “jwinboston” who related an experience attending Handel’s Messiah. A family with 4 kids were making quite a fuss in the front rows. When she spoke to the father at intermission, he reacted indignantly feeling that his kids were being attacked. She spoke to an usher and found the family wasn’t there at the end of intermission. Others in the audience thanked her for speaking up.

However, she says,

“Over the years I’ve thought about that incident and I’ve come to the conclusion that I was actually in the wrong. I went to that concert with the same expectations that I have when I attend any classical concert, however, a Christmas season performance of Messiah is not any classical concert. Different people with different expectations attend these concerts and they are the target audience, not serious classical patrons. So at this time of year if you are going to attend one of these performances you need to do it in a relaxed and tolerant frame of mind. You’re there for the event, not the performance.”

I think most people would say she originally handled the situation quite reasonably as it was and wouldn’t have found any fault with her. To have this level of self-reflection is quite commendable. (And in fact another commenter does commend her.)

This is one of those times where theatre and religion have a lot in common in that the performances/services during the respective holidays are often well attended by people who normally don’t participate at other times of the year and aren’t quite familiar with the rituals.

Performing arts groups are probably more aware of the events that will attract these more diverse audiences than their regular patrons are. Since I saw this article, I have been trying to think of a way to beg the tolerance of regular patrons in a way that doesn’t sound condescending to one of the segments. If anyone has any ideas, I would love to hear them.

(Don’t make your ideas too good though. I really want to fit my ushers with ninja costumes.)

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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1 thought on “Release The Theatre Ninja!”

  1. As a theatre-goer and theatre director, I always appreciate a respectful, appropriately behaved audience. But as a mother of a 2 year old, I also appreciate the opportunity to take my daughter to age-appropriate productions (The Wizard of Oz, Beauty and the Beast, etc). She is usually quiet and respectful, riveted to what is going on onstage. But there are moments when she gets excited and will make a noise or comment, and in those moments, I take the chance to teach her how to behave at a live show. Rarely have I had to take her out of a show (which is the appropriate thing for a parent to do if their child is excessively loud or causing a disruption). I appreciate the understanding of the rest of the audience as they bear with us. Unless we take kids to the theatre at a young age, they will never learn how to behave. And taking young people to the theatre can foster a life-long love of performing arts. My mom took me to see operas from age 9, and musical theatre productions from age 4. I attribute my love of theatre to early exposure, and for that I cannot thank my mother enough! I hope that more audience members can give a bit of leeway to parents trying to expose their kids to the arts.


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