An Appropriate Audience: Staying polite at a performance

by epi on June 15, 2012

Q: Our high school has had a problem with the behavior of the students during performances and presentations. What would you suggest as the best way to inform our students of appropriate audience behavior?

A: It is important to ask students to put themselves in the place of the performers or presenters – ask them to think how they would feel if people talked, were rude, and were inattentive. You can also cover basic manners that hold true in movie theaters, classrooms, and stage performances, too:

The basic manners for audiences include:
Don’t talk during the performance
Discard your trash properly
Don’t sit with your heads together so the people behind you can’t see
Don’t wear hats
If you have big hair, sit in the back so you don’t block someone’s view.

Additionally:
Turn off cell phones
Don’t clap in the middle of a performance – wait until the end
Don’t get up and down innumerable times, disturbing those around you
Don’t put your feet on the seat in front of you
Don’t take up an empty seat by using it for your coats and parcels
If you must get up to make a call, use the restroom or because you are leaving a theater, wait until an intermission or a break in the performance, if possible
If you are late to the theater, wait for an intermission to take your seat
Don’t stick your feet out into the aisle
Don’t use someone else’s arm rest or sprawl over into someone else’s seat
Do enjoy the performance and applaud the actors; never boo or hiss or make rude noises if you don’t like the performance
When taking your seat, if you must climb over a row of people, your back is to them; you face forward.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Winifred Rosenburg June 15, 2012 at 9:33 am

As I understand it isn’t rude to not applaud or even to boo at a performance. The idea is the performers are putting themselves out there for an honest reaction from the audience and it’s not wrong to give them one. As a performer, I actually like this rule because I like to think I earn whatever applause I get. Howver EPI is probably right to not tell the students this. :)

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Elizabeth June 15, 2012 at 11:22 am

A situation I experienced recently causes me not to agree with you, Winifred. I went to see a performance of a well known symphony, but the works being performed were quite avant-garde – in particular there was as John Cage piece that was really more like performance art. It was simply not accessible as “music” in the traditional or classical sense. There was a major exodus of audience members during intermission, which is fine as the music was apparently not to their tastes, but there were also a couple of people who booed loudly after the Cage piece. The performers looked genuinely bemused because the booing was not for their performance of the piece, but rather the piece itself. When audience members can’t even be counted on to appreciate the efforts of a talented and hardworking group, I say keep the negative thoughts to oneself. Oftentimes the audience is both clapping (or not clapping) both for the performance and simply whether they liked the piece.

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Nina June 15, 2012 at 2:42 pm

Hi Elizabeth and Winifred,

What an interesting conversation–I’ve never thought about applause in that light, being for the thing being performed instead of the performance of it. I suppose I’ve always thought of applause as a bit like tipping–it’s inappropriate not to do it at all unless something terrible has happened, but the degree to which you do it should reflect your opinion of the performance/service.

Is that a crazy comparison? I have performed occasionally, often at things I’m not great at just because they needed someone to fill a gap–I didn’t expect an ovation, but I would’ve been kind destroyed if there’d just been dead silence when I was done. A smattering of polite applause allows even the poorest performer to scurry off the stage with a bit of dignity!

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Vanna Keiler June 16, 2012 at 7:49 pm

With regards to the high school audience, one thing to keep in mind is that young adults are either sitting in classrooms or highly active. If the presentation would be lengthy, it might be a good idea to first have all the students get up simultaneously, stretch, jump up and down and then sit down. After this, a brief reminder of audience expectations per the above list (heavily abbreviated) would be a good idea. Before each class ends prior to the performance/presentation, teachers may want to have a five-minute discussion on this so each student is aware of staff expectations. This way, the message is reinforced a few times. Anyone disobeying the rules during the presentation should be removed and dealt with accordingly, per each school’s rules, regulations and policies on student behavior.

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Stephen November 11, 2012 at 7:40 am

As a person who struggled with this as a child, I would give them a lesson on how to be a good audience member. When I was little, I remember going into assemblies, concerts, and other large group events in school cafeterias, gymnasiums, auditoriums, and theaters. When I was third grade, there was a holiday concert and I did not know when to clap, the reason for clapping, and why at certain times the audience sang along. Where the rest of the audience knew what to do at each moment was baffling for me. I think some kids don’t learn audience interaction etiquette by inference and need to be taught. You might organize a lesson in this by reserving the theater, gym, or cafeteria and explain to them when to clap, and give them practice lessons.

Other things that should be taught include audience hand signals, when it is OK to speak out, sing, yell, etc, and when is it not. The last important topic is that the house lights being dimmed or turned off indicates the show is starting or in progress.

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