How to Be a Great Audience Member

How to be a great audience member
Written by Kerry Hishon

I’m a stickler for theatre etiquette, and that includes being great audience members. No matter what performance you are watching, whether it be a classroom presentation, a school show, or a professional performance during a school trip, being a great audience member is so important for students. It shows respect for the hard work that the performers, crew members, and artistic staff have done, and allows everyone to enjoy the show to the fullest. But drama students should aspire to be the best audience members in the theatre – not only because they learn a lot from experiencing different approaches to theatre by being in the audience, but because they know how frustrating it is to be on the receiving end of less-than-polite audience members.

Students should know the basics of being a good audience member – things like turning off cell phones, not unwrapping crinkly candy wrappers during the show, being quiet during the performance, and so on. Let’s delve a little deeper into six tips that go beyond the basics to help students be the best audience members in the theatre.

1. Allow yourself enough time to get to the theatre and into the auditorium.

There are a lot of things students should do before going into the auditorium and sitting down, such as using the restroom, getting and finishing their snack or beverage (don’t take those snacks into the theatre!), reading the program, and getting into the right mindset for the show they’re about to see. If students are rushing in at the last minute, they won’t be in the “let’s enjoy a show” mindset – they will be stressed out and distracted.

2. Sit back in your seat, and sit up straight.

Audience seats are usually set up in a way that each row is slightly diagonal to the row in front of and behind it. This is so audience members have windows of space to see between the heads of the people in front of them. Leaning forward in the seats to get a closer look, or leaning to the side to whisper to friends will block the view for the people behind. So please sit up straight and sit back in your chair.

3. No matter how sneaky you think you’re being, other audience members AND the actors onstage can see you.

As a performer myself, I have witnessed audience members doing everything from talking to their neighbour in the audience and texting (the glow from the phone on their face was a dead giveaway), to poking their friends or even falling asleep during the performance. (How depressing is that, to feel like your show is putting your audience to sleep?!) While audience members think that they’re safely hidden in the darkness of the house, the actors and crew members can see everything that goes on during the show. Leave the “performance” to the people actually on the stage.

4. Scene changes are not a break for chatting.

While they remain quiet during actual scenes, many audience members think that transitions and musical interludes are a good time to start chatting with their friends. Despite the fact that the actors may not be onstage, musicians and technicians are still doing their jobs, and it’s extremely disrespectful to those people to chat through their work – you may not be able to see them, but, trust me, they’re there and they are working extremely hard.

Bonus Point: Stick around until after the bows, listen to the final notes of the song being performed, and applaud the musicians afterwards. Most audience members just get up and leave once the actors leave the stage.

5. Shushing others makes just as much noise as the actual noise being made.

Lead by example – be a quiet audience member, and hope that others will follow suit. Otherwise, you’re just contributing to the noise.

6. During the pre-show speech, when the house manager makes the announcement to turn off your cell phone: Please actually check and make sure your cell phone is turned off.

Turning off cell phones is the most basic courtesy on the part audience members – it’s drilled and drilled, yet students still forget sometimes. Please double-check to ensure your phone is completely turned off. Some students just throw their phones into their bags without checking, and then they have to dig through the bag to find the phone if it does go off. Even putting your phone on the vibrate setting really isn’t sufficient – it still makes an audible noise when it vibrates. I’m sure every theatre person dreams of the day when we no longer have to give the cell phone warning before the show. But until that day comes – turn your phone off and fully enjoy the show!

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Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. She blogs at

About the author

Kerry Hishon

Kerry Hishon is a director, actor, writer and stage combatant from London, Ontario, Canada. View her blog at