Dozen-ish Views On Etiquette

Audiences today, they just don’t know how to behave!

You have probably seen a lot of conversation on this subject crop up whenever something egregious occurs and makes the news or social media rounds.

UK based What’s On Stage decided to tackle the subject of etiquette from all angles over the last week.  There is a full index of all the articles on their site.  It can be worth taking a look through because while they have the usual perspectives from actors, annoyed audience members and the obligatory post about how things only got staid and passive during the Victorian era, there are some voices that aren’t commonly heard.

For example, an usher writes how they and their compatriots are the public face of the theater and bear the heaviest expectation to enforce the rules but don’t receive the support necessary to carry out their charge.

What the usher has to say probably isn’t news, but is a reminder to examine whether we are providing our front line staff/volunteers with sufficient support.

A theater manager writes:

I do think audience behaviour has changed recently. People feel they know their rights more and don’t necessarily have to think about other people. It’s all about them: ‘this is ridiculous, I shouldn’t have to queue’. There is a sense of entitlement. It always seems to be: ‘I’m traumatised now, and what are you going to give me?’

People are angry when they get disrupted by phones, but it also works the other way. The person on the phone says: ‘What’s your problem? It’s my phone and I am busy.’ There’s no sense of being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes.

He/she notes that so often a balance has to be struck, especially when it comes to assessing whether dealing with a disruption will cause a bigger disruption than is already occurring.

Then there are those who like their audience rowdy and involved and a woman who was dismayed that the audience at a performance at Mamma Mia! was so polite, she couldn’t manage to get them to sing along with the performers.

If nothing else, the series is a good reminder that the question of etiquette is one encompasses an entire range of people, not just those in close proximity in a single moment.

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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