Things to do in New York

Broadway Theatre Etiquette | 20 Things You Must Know

Last Updated:

Broadway, New York

Perhaps the pinnacle of performing arts, Broadway is your go-to place if you’re looking to catch a play in New York (or maybe anywhere in the USA!). Founded in the late 19th century, Broadway is where the biggest actors and directors in the world collaborate and produce theatrical masterpieces. No trip to New York is complete without a Broadway experience, so head out and catch your favourite show at any one of the 41 theatres in the Broadway district. Before you go, here are some theatre etiquettes that could come handy.

20 Broadway Theatre Etiquettes You Ought To Know

Theatre folk are meticulous in their conduct and will ask you to follow a few rules and regulations. Knowing and following basic theatre etiquettes will not only help you, but it will help out your fellow patrons, the staff, and the performers. Here we take a look at 20 such Broadway theatre etiquettes that one should follow when attending a Broadway show.

1. Dress appropriately

An unspoken rule of attending the performing arts is that one should dress to impress. It is not like the yesteryears when formal clothing was the only way to attend a Broadway event. However, the theatre still holds its patrons to high standards, hence wearing appropriate clothing is considered more of a necessity than an option. Some basic rules you can follow are: no shorts, no open toed shoes, and no t-shirts with inappropriate writing.

2. Be punctual

Perhaps the most important aspect of a theatre show — arriving on time. You do not want to be the one that interrupts the show, walking in the middle, while everyone else, including the stage actor, is trying to focus on the task at hand. Nowadays, some theatres do not allow latecomers, so you’ll have to watch the show from a screen in the lobby and enter post intermission. Theatre doors usually open 30 minutes before the start of the show. Lines might be long, however, so do arrive before the printed time on your ticket.

3. Get your affairs in order

Be it taking off your jacket, coat or hat — do it all before the show starts. Movements during the show can be very distracting, for both the viewers and the actors. Ensure that you are at your most comfortable when sitting down.

4. Keep it mum

It is always advisable to not talk during the performance. Not only is it disturbing to the audience and performers, it is also very inappropriate. You can always have a conversation during the intermission or after the show concludes.

5. Applaud and cheer at the end only

While certain shows might allow you to applaud during the end of songs and entrances, if you are unaware of such rules; reserve your applause for the end. You can take a look at the playbill to get a better idea of when to applaud during a performance. However, it is considered rude to not cheer after the performance as actors spend a great amount of time perfecting their act, so take this opportunity to show your appreciation!

Broadway Theatre Etiquette

6. Avoid using cellular devices

Perhaps the most important rule in theatres is that cellular devices should be kept in silent mode. Many an unfortunate exchange has happened because of this between performers and audiences, so a ringing cellular device can cause chaos. Keep your phones away as the bright lights and the notification tones can be disturbing even for fellow audience members. You should also refrain from taking pictures.

7. No food & drinks inside the theatre

In certain theatres you can take in drinks and food items, however, it is usually frowned upon to eat during a performance. If you feel hungry make sure that you do not make noise while you chew and your food is unwrapped and ready to be consumed before a performance. Your fellow theatregoers may get quite disgruntled if they hear crinkling noises!

8. Stay for the curtain call

A theatre etiquette that is often ignored is staying back for the curtain call. It is considered extremely impolite to leave before the curtain call. While it may be okay in cinemas, curtain calls in theatres are a very important part of the show. This is where the actors, directors, producers, playwrights, and all members of the show are lauded. Not only does it show courtesy to stay, but the cast and crew also take it as a sign of appreciation and encouragement.

9. Autographs are not impolite, if asked the right way

You should always ask for autographs in a polite and calm manner. It is customary to go near the stage door to get the autographs of actors, but they might decline. Some of the biggest actors in Hollywood perform on Broadway and hence it is a common ask. However, be respectful of their choice if they refuse to give autographs as they might have reasons for it.

10. Those in the front row must be extra quiet

Not all actors use microphones that are attached to their bodies. Some of them use microphones that are on the floor of the stage. Especially in smaller, more intimate performace spaces, if you're in the front row for such performances, you should make sure to be extra quiet as your voice may get caught on the mics.

Broadway Theatre Etiquette

11. Theatres have the best merchandise

Buying merchandise of your favorite shows not only shows your support, but also helps them keep the show running. Oftentimes, you will want to check online on websites if they will have a certain item, however, more often than not it will not be available. The theatre is a great place to purchase merchandise, however, do wait till the end of the show to do so.

12. Do not use flash photography

It is best to not take pictures of the performing cast, with or without a flash. This will not only distract you from the performance on stage, but it is also very impolite in front of the other audience members. You can take pictures before or after the show, be it selfies or panoramic shots. However, once the show begins, do keep your phones aside.

13. Use the loo beforehand

Bathroom lines can be excessively long and irritating during intermission. It is advisable to go to the loo before the show begins. If you are watching a family show and have little ones with you, then going to the loo beforehand is a must. You will not want the kids getting restless and fidgety. They may become a disturbance to the audience and performers. In fact, the kids will also feel more relaxed if they go beforehand.

14. Avoid bringing luggage

Seats in the Broadway theatres are often very snug, hence it is advisable to not bring any backpacks or shopping bags to the theatres. It might cause a lot of discomfort to your neighbors as well. All baggage also gets searched thoroughly by the security, thus creating more hassle for you than it already is.

15. Read the playbill!

In order to get a good idea of what the show consists of, the duration of acts, which actors are playing what roles, intermission timings and more, you should read the Playbill provided on your seats. You will also find some stellar recommendations for restaurants and bars nearby once your show concludes.

Broadway Theatre Etiquette

16. Keep comments neutral or positive

While it is important that you have your opinion on the show and, of course, everyone is entitled to one, be careful when talking about the show in the theatre. Be moderate and polite as family members of the cast and crew may also be in the audience and negative comments may be hurtful.

17. Do not litter

Theatres are generally very well kept places and littering is frowned upon. Certain theatres have bars and some of these are the best in the city. Naturally, audience members are inclined to visit them and carry a beverage to the show. While that is perfectly fine, do ensure that you keep a track of the bottles and glasses you bring to your seat. Once the show has concluded, ensure that you dispose of the litter.

18. Bring a jacket or a light sweater

Theatres can get quite chilly because of teh air conditioning throughout the year. This is also done because performers need to keep cool as the harsh stage lights can make it tough for them to perform. You should get a light sweater or wrap to keep warm.

19. Do your research

It is important that you read reviews and critical responses of the shows in order to get a good idea of what to expect from them. Certain performances can feature lighting and sound systems that might trigger people with light and sound sensitivity. There are other shows that may have content warnings, hence it is advisable to read reviews before getting tickets, especially for the elderly or the children.

20. No obligation to stand

When most shows conclude the audience members stand and applaud the cast and crew for a fantastic performance. More often than not, you will see that audiences are split between whether to stand up and applaud or sit down and do the same. If you believe that the cast was great and even if a singular performance managed to leave a mark on you, stand up and applaud. However, there is absolutely no obligation to give the cast a standing ovation just because everyone else is.

More Broadway Guides

For more Broadway information, here are some helpful quick links!