Weekend Diversion: The Performing Arts

Music. Dance. Theatre. Take your pick, ranging from something classical like the symphony or the ballet to something modern like musical theatre or fusion dance, there’s a world of sights and sounds for you to enjoy.

For an example of a new twist on an old favorite, have a listen to Yo-Yo Ma (on cello) and Bobby McFerrin (on vocals) perform The Flight of the Bumblebee:

Flight of the Bumblebee,
As you prepare to enjoy this new world, you may ask yourself, “What qualifies as proper behavior in this new venue?” I have put together a passive-aggressive set of (in)frequently asked questions about Performing Arts Etiquette.

1.) Can I bring my baby? No, there are no children under three allowed, pretty much across the board.

2.) But my child is well-behaved, and really enjoys this type of thing. If your child breathes so much as one audible breath, I will beckon the usher and have you removed. There are rules against this sort of thing so that everyone can enjoy the performance. Find a babysitter, or stay home.

3.) That performer just did something great! How should I let them know? Wait. Wait for an appropriate break.

4.) What’s an appropriate break for applause? At the very least, at the end of the movement/scene. (If you go to the symphony, it’s technically proper etiquette to not clap until the entire piece is over.) Regardless, never interrupt the middle of a performance.

5.) But that was really good, and I want to let them know now! And I want to watch and hear the performance, not your laudations. So wait.

6.) Okay, well, how do I dress? While formal is always a good call, simply wearing nice clean clothes that fit you well is perfectly fine. Just try not to overpower the theatre with your Drakkar Noir.

7.) I have something witty to say during the performance! Good for you! Now, keep it to yourself. Either whisper it so that only the one person you intend it for can hear it (and you can limit the number of peoples’ good times that you ruin to one), or save it until an appropriate break.

8.) I have something obnoxious that I want to do that you haven’t covered here! Of course you do. You probably don’t even realize it’s obnoxious. Here’s the deal. 97% of the people who come to these things come to see the show, just the show, and nothing but the show. So do right by all of them.

You are not the show. Anything that you can do that would cause your neighbor to pay attention to you instead of the show is out, and is bad behavior. No noise, no lights, no sudden movements, etc. You know that cacophony of coughing you hear between movements at the symphony? That’s a bunch of people fighting to hold it in during the performance. Show everyone the same courtesy, and maybe you’ll get to enjoy something rare, beautiful, and inspirational. Something like this:

So have a great weekend, and thanks for both supporting the arts and letting me rant!


  1. #1 Naked Bunny with a Whip
    October 18, 2009

    maybe you’ll get to enjoy something rare, beautiful, and inspirational.

    Not after reading a self-absorbed, stomach-turning rant like that.

  2. #2 AutoFocus
    October 18, 2009

    It’s interesting to know that during the peaks of the art of theater in western culture, ancient Greek theater and Elizabethan theater in England, the audience were vital participants in the show: They booed, laughed and cried audibly. They cursed the villains and applauded the heroes. The same goes to the classical era in music, the 18th century. Mozart had to deal with a very lively crowd.

    I think that when an art is truly alive, an essential part of it’s culture, the audience is a living part of the show. I guess our era’s public arts are the film show and the rock concert – in both, the crowd is alive (in film, less and less, but that’s another story). Maybe in 200 years, it will be rude to cheer aor to sing along with a Green Day song played live by professional musicians 🙂

  3. #3 Sili
    October 18, 2009

    Hear! Hear!

    Of course, I haven’t been to any performances since I shouted at a group of picnicers during an open air opera recital …

  4. #4 NewEnglandBob
    October 18, 2009

    Is someone having a bad day?

  5. #5 ThirtyFiveUp
    October 18, 2009

    Good rant and Ma and McFerrin buzzed blissfully.


  6. #6 blueshifter
    October 18, 2009

    hahahaha – sounds like you went to the same Carmen performance I went to last month! ok, no toddlers, but definitely loads of antsy kids. and I’m sorry, but why can’t we demand the audience wear suits to the Opera? A coat. At least wear a coat! A friggin blazer! I don’t care how many spangles your fancy t-shirt has – it’s still a t-shirt!

    @Naked_Bunny_With_A_Whip_Up_Its: Assuming that you are easily offended, I’ll try to be polite: relax, babe! Un-knot them knickers!

  7. #7 Jyotsana
    October 19, 2009

    Audience silence is indeed the best way to show respect for the performer but there are always exceptions to the rule, such as the rock concerts mentioned by AutoFocus at #2. Another example: bellydancers thrive on audience participation. While I am still very much a student, I have danced enough to know that a silent audience feels akin to failure. Immediate feedback is essential. If I do a complicated move or a fancy spin, I want the applause so I know the audience is paying attention and noticed what I did. Even when pros such as the Bellydance Superstars tour, they encourage the audience to clap and zaghareet.

    As to the video, I don’t know if I’m more ashamed or amused to admit that when she first drew the planes I thought they were UFOs 🙂

  8. #8 Jonathan
    October 19, 2009

    Regarding #4, most conductors say the appropriate time to applaud is whenever the audience is moved to do so.

  9. #9 Xanthippas
    October 19, 2009

    Not after reading a self-absorbed, stomach-turning rant like that.

    If that’s the case, then all serious attendees of the performing arts are self-absorbed and stomach-churning in their annoyance with rude and obnoxious co-attendees.

    And anyway if you think that’s bad, I can’t even stand it when people cough during the breaks in performance. Like Ethan, I don’t attend classical music performances to listen to my fellow attendees lung functions.

  10. #10 El Guerrero del Interfaz
    October 20, 2009

    Generalizations are bad and this is a big one.

    Is it so hard to understand that you don’t behave (or dress) the same at a rock concert, a jazz performance, an opera house, a flamenco tavern, or a fado house? Just to name a few. What’s adequate etiquette in one ambiance brands you as a jerk or a noob elsewhere.

    Better than sweeping one size fits all recipes that the author favours is the old wise “donde fuere, haz lo que viere”, that is, adapt your behaviour to the customs of the site you’re in.

    You should go out more and to more diverse places. You’ll probably see that others find obnoxious you finding some things obnoxious…

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