7 Rules of Theatre Etiquette Even Little Kids Can Learn

Do you go to the theatre with young children? The range of options available to little ones, even as young as 2, to attend live performance at local theatres is so impressive. If you have a good regional performing arts centre in your area, your family will likely have a number of options to see quite high level performances throughout the year. Take the chance and go whenever you can manage it! It’s entertaining and builds a great habit for the littlies.

Theatre etiquette (I know, it sounds so stodgy, right?!) is the standard you can expect to follow when attending live theatre. In some respects, it’s different from attending a movie or concert, and for people who have never been to a performing arts hall, the idea of a place with its own set of rules can actually be intimidating enough to to put some off attending, altogether. So, if your kids internalize etiquette early, you’ve removed a huge barrier from their prospects of future theatre attendance.

But, why even bother with “theatre etiquette”? In an age where almost everything we do is so casual, isn’t it an old fashioned thing to be concerned with? I think this set of manners is well worth passing along, for a few reasons:

  • It’s kind to the other patrons. We’re all here together!
  • It shows respect to the performers. You can see them, and they can see you!
  • It’s a way of thanking all of the professionals (or hard working volunteers, as the case may be!) from actors to technicians to front of house staff for the work they do. I promise they don’t do it for the money or fame.
  • It’s an acknowledgement that attending live performance is a gift, something special. It’s joining together in a communal experience with our community to experience something outside of our daily experience. No matter how often you attend the theatre, there is something sacred in it.

Now, obviously, the expectations for a pre-schooler attending the theatre are a fair bit different than for adults – and, often, they are even encouraged to get up and dance or shout out – but there are still some things that you can model for and expect from your kids every time you see a live performance. Even our youngest theatre attendees can begin to learn these bits of theatre etiquette:

Arrive early

The time crush with kids is crazy town, but for everyone’s sake, it’s best to try to arrive at a theatre performance around 15 minutes early (even earlier if you’re picking up tickets). Not only does this give you a little window for traffic or parking mishaps, but it means that you can breathe easy when you arrive in the lobby and even make that crucial last trip to the toilet. It’s never fun to be that person dashing in at the last second, trying to locate tickets in your bag while juggling a squirm monster kiddo. If you do arrive late (hey, we’ve all been there), you must respect the late entry policy. Every performance has rules for when people may be admitted late, depending on the disruption it will cause, and sometimes even the safety of the performers. You may be allowed in at any time, at a set time in the show, or not at all. Late seating rules are not set arbitrarily. Missing out can be a bummer, but que sera sera.

Be Aisle Kind

Ah, the aisle shuffle! If we could just … get … to … that… seat. Whether you find yourself seated on a lovely aisle seat or tucked in right into the middle of a long row, we all have to do the aisle dance for getting by and letting people through. Here’s everything I can tell you about doing it with style.

1. “Pardon me” and “thank you” as you walk by go a long way.
2. If you have a bag, tuck it right under year seat to keep the aisle clear, including the strap.Trip hazard!
3. If your legs are long enough to touch the ground (i.e. – you’re not a small child), it’s nice to stand up to let people by rather than just scooting your legs to the side (barring any physical disability, of course). It just gives people that extra inch or two.
4. Did you know that the most polite way to walk past people in the aisle is facing them? This is a little Emily Post sort of suggestion, but it’s for preventing people from having to have a close up of your bum. Tell your pre-schoolers this (bum, bum, bum!) – they’ll love it.

Don’t Kick Seats

This is for your kids. You too, ya wild stallion!

No Food

This is one area which is quite different from going to a movie theatre, which many kids will be more familiar with. Yes, there are the occasional theatres which allow food and drink, but it’s not the norm for live theatre. I know you have the stealth of the grey wolf, but the performers can hear you opening snack packets, lollies, and cough drops, and it’s distracting.  A sneaky bottle of water is generally OK for kids, as long as you don’t have to undo a wrapper on it first and the plastic isn’t the crinkly kind.

Technology Be Gone

Technology is a creeping demon in the live theatre. Maybe I’m a fuddy duddy for being such a stickler here, but theatrical performance is just a no-phone/tablet/Kindle Fire zone, unless you are specifically instructed otherwise (which will be rare!). I will be imparting this old codger rule upon my kids until I’m too broken and decrepit to attend the theatre with them.
Check and double-double-triple check that your phone is on silent (no vibrating, either!). Supposing you were early, a quick selfie well before the lights go down is usually within the realm of totally OK. Then, tuck it away for the rest of the show. Listen, I know Peppa Pig Live may not be the most stimulating thing you’ve seen all month, but no sneaky peeks at Facebook during the show. And, no photos. NO PHOTOS, PEOPLE! It still happened, even if there are no photos, I promise.

Oh, and if somehow your double-double-triple check failed, and your phone does go off during the show (Gah!!!), for the love of Dionysus, silence it with the speed of a cheetah on amphetamines, and Do. Not. Answer. It.
Your kid is watching. Be the change you want to see in the world.

Dress Up a Bit

Dress codes are a rather anything goes at theatres these days, but on the theme of marking a special event, I do think there’s something to be said for dressing up a bit. Someone once told me about calling the Sydney Opera House to inquire about dress code, to which they were told, “dress for the occasion you’d like to have.” Help your kids to get into the spirit that the theatre is something worth being excited about by dressing yourself and them a step above normal.

I do say this with a grain of salt, knowing what kids can be like about clothes. If dressing up is going to make your child feel terribly uncomfortable or out of their element, forget I ever said anything. If they’ll only go out in full Batman garb – seriously, no problem, Batmum. And, if you’re going to a theme event – totally appropriate for your kid to dress the part (maybe skip the tutu, yourself, though. Or not. You do you!)

Give Back to the Performers

Beyond all the do’s and don’ts, if there’s one thing to impart upon your theatre-going kids, it’s to be present. For any show, it is always appropriate to listen, to laugh at the funny bits, and to clap when it’s over. Performers truly feed off the vibe in an audience, and can feel when the crowd is inattentive, restless, or disinterested. Obviously, it’s a give and take – the performers need to give an engaging performance (especially to the youngest audiences who make NO secret when their attention has waned!) – and in return, the audience should come in with an open heart and mind, ready to be a part of the experience. Model your enthusiasm and appreciation. Your young theatre lovers will take note.