How to Behave at the Theater


Utah County has so much live theater, it’s leaking out at the seams and getting goo all over the adjacent counties. Still, there are some who don’t attend the theater and might be hesitant to try, for fear of committing a social “foe paw,” pardon my French.

Here, then, is a guide to proper theater etiquette, as observed in Utah County.

• Babies love theater. Bring them, no matter how young. It is perfectly acceptable to give birth in the car on the way over and then bring the baby, still dripping, into the theater. Babies love theater.

• If a thought occurs to you, be sure to say it out loud, even if it’s in the middle of the play. A thought that remains unspoken is a wasted thought. If you think one of the actresses is wearing a pretty dress, you should say: “That’s a pretty dress.” If a character reveals something he shouldn’t have, in a manner that will surely lead to humorous complications, you should say: “Whoops!” (Also acceptable: “Uh-oh!”) If you are watching “Beau Jest” at the Hale Center Theater Orem, and seven of the play’s eight characters are already onstage, and someone knocks at the door, and process of elimination tells you it must be Chris, you should say, out loud: “Chris!” A whisper is acceptable in each of these instances, but make sure those around you can hear, so they can share in your excitement over having had a thought.

• Eat like a @#$% pig. Theaters wouldn’t sell concessions if they didn’t want you to enjoy them. Unwrap candy slowly and delicately, savoring every second of unwrappy goodness. If you can find a bag of Skittles in which each Skittle has been individually wrapped in its own cellophane bag, even better. If your candy has somehow been rigged to a box of dynamite, and each bite you take sets off another explosion, that’s fine, too. An audience full of candy-wrapper noise is a happy audience!

• Don’t worry about “dressing up.” If you have shoes on, you’re ready. Is there a hole in your sweatpants? Tie a sweatshirt around your midsection, and go to town.

• Only nerds show up before a play starts.

• Choose the right things to be offended by. Shows featuring racism (“The King and I”), adultery (“Camelot”), spousal abuse (“Carousel”), sexism (“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”) or any other offensive behavior are perfectly OK, as long as the characters are amusing, and as long as they sing and dance a lot. But if the characters drink or use profanity, complain to the management.

• Turn your cellphone off. But if you forget and it rings during the show, don’t just quickly silence it, as that would be rude to the caller. Instead, answer it, and have this conversation: “Hello … yeah … no, I’m in a play … yeah … yeah, it’s pretty good … OK … OK … yeah … bye.” You should convince yourself that you are whispering quietly enough not to be heard by others, but trust me, this is not true.

• A play a day keeps the doctor away. If you feel yourself coming down with a cold, cough, flu, tuberculosis or the consumption, do not see a doctor. Go immediately to the theater — to a comedy, if possible, so that every burst of laughter can turn into a loud hacking. Do not bring lozenges, as unwrapping them might disturb other patrons.

• Be a true “patron of the arts.” If you ignore all shows except “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” which you see each time it is performed; if you dismiss all Shakespeare plays as being “boring” without even seeing them; if you won’t watch anything unless it’s a musical, comedy or musical comedy; if you have seen more than five plays this year in which a man dresses as a woman for comedic purposes; if you believe the actors having learned their lines is enough to constitute a play being “real good”; if any of these apply, then feel free to proudly proclaim yourself a true patron of the arts! Hooray and huzzah!

Is there such a thing as gentle sarcasm? Because this column is sarcastic, obviously, but not heavily bitter. Plus, it is my theory that everyone agrees with me on how to behave at the theater -- including people who violate the rules. If you asked 100 people whether it's rude to talk during a show, they'd all say yes. And yet, if you observed them, you'd find 75 of them doing it.

Maybe it's obvious, but the "Beau Jest" example is from my real life. When Chris knocked on the door, I heard no fewer than five people around me say, "Chris!" It was a stunning achievement in the field of stating the obvious.

I asked Luscious Malone for her input on this column, and she brought up the cellphone and coughing things. Tanny Tantan brought up that you shouldn't sing along with the songs, but the only person I've ever witnessed doing that was Luscious Malone, so I didn't think it counted.

(By the way, I think "cellphone" should be two words, but the Daily Herald thinks it should be one. And thus it is.)