Service of Theater and Concert Etiquette

June 16th, 2022

Categories: Concert, Etiquette, Mask, Theatre, Vaccines

National Youth Festival Chorus at Carnegie Hall June 13, 2022

I first wrote about theater etiquette in 2014 where I shared a friend’s experiences seated near audience scofflaws at a few Broadway shows. In one she suffered through the noise created by a woman behind her. First, her raincoat that she sat on crinkled every time she fidgeted, which was often. Next, there was the sound of her opening candy wrappers and finally her loud whisper to her companion asking what time it was that drove my friend to say “shush.” At another show, a woman next to her mother texted throughout the performance, tap, tap, tapping away with the light on her phone an added distraction.

The set of “And Then There Were None” at The Robert Moss Theater at Playwrights Downtown, NYC

A year later I mentioned that Patti LuPone ripped the phone out of a woman’s hand without missing a beat as she played a diva, Irene, in “Shows for Days” at Lincoln Center because, said LuPone afterwards, the lit screen disrupts audience members and actors alike. She is known for such reactions to audience members who irritate her. This May, during a Q and A after a performance of “Company,” she called out a member of the audience whose mask had slipped below her nose.

This week I attended “Songs of Renewal” at Carnegie Hall to hear choruses and choirs–voice and clarinet–and chamber singers. In seats in front of me was a child about 9 who could not sit still and her parents. On and off went her sweater. She was on her mother’s lap and then in her seat and then back again on mom, squirming, facing backwards, then forwards. Her parents were oblivious to how her performance impacted those nearby. I was thrilled when they left before the end [which many did. It was late for a school night]. A few rows ahead of us young people in their late teens took some freed up seats. Although masks were required, they were oblivious. Two of four began to make out as though they were at home alone. One never pulled up her mask after that.

In contrast, the next night I saw a spot-on performance by the St. Bart’s Players in Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None,” at The Robert Moss Theater at Playwrights Downtown. In a diminutive space holding 50, the audience was perfectly behaved. My host mentioned that although many had friends in the topnotch cast, they didn’t break the rhythm of the performance by applauding at each entrance.

I recall a New York Times restaurant review many years ago by Mimi Sheraton. The food and service were perfect but the fight by customers at the next table reduced the grade she gave the place. Theaters don’t give etiquette or personality tests to audience members–though both Carnegie Hall and The Robert Moss Theater checked for vaccinations and required masks. At the latter, in addition to turning off our phones, we were asked not to open noisy candy wrappers. I just checked out the Ricola lozenges that Carnegie Hall has made available for decades to avert coughing jags. The wrapper is silent when you open it.

Do you have pet peeves about audience behavior when attending a concert, musical or play?

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9 Responses to “Service of Theater and Concert Etiquette”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    Your examples are inexcusable, – how could someone go out in public and be so oblivious to others comfort and concentration! I feel bad that you had to go through that…

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    My friend had the worst of it with the noisy and smartphone addicted audience neighbors. It amazes me how oblivious some are of others in far too many circumstances.

  3. BC Said:

    As a country bumpkin, we watch mostly shows on tv and Netflix. No warm bodies are sitting in front of us at home!

    Do miss the big city events tho. You are among the privileged to be able to go to live quality shows. We have live theater and symphony here, but we are not crazy to mix with the masses right now.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    We went to countless memorable concerts for decades at the Fisher Center at Bard College in the tiny town of Annandale-On-Hudson in upstate NY. True, we’d heard some of the great conductors [and orchestras] at Carnegie Hall–Leonard Bernstein, Charles Dutoit, Christoph Eschenbach, Valery Gergiev to name a few–but we were rarely disappointed by the visiting conductors or Leon Botstein, Bard president and conductor. Botstein’s pre-concert talks were worth a detour. Live music performances are precious.

    One of the alarming things about going out at night in the big city these days is the dearth of taxis should you want one to take you home. If you’re not signed up for Uber, Lyft, Curb or other car services good luck flagging an empty yellow taxi.

  5. Debbie Kunen Said:

    Debbie on Facebook: Everything mentioned PLUS new braided hairdos that are so high they impede the view of patrons seated behind them. If it were a hat it could be removed! People had to request a seat change because of it. Theater goers beware if you are attending a performance where that is likely to be a problem. I ain’t playin! 😡

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Wow. Theater architects take note! Those in the orchestra may no longer have the best seats if the hairstyle persists.

  7. lucrezia Said:

    Guess I’ve lucked out, since for the most part fellow audience members have been well behaved. The only exception was a man who was unnecessarily blocking a friend’s view during Tosca. I tapped him on the shoulder & politely informed him of the situation, and he obligingly withdrew.

    I’ve yet to be distracted by a noisy raincoat or a bored brat but should that happen, and a gentle remonstrance failed to work, I would complain to an usher and presumably bring the disturbance to an end.

    Years ago, an opera buff friend treated herself to an orchestra seat at the Met. Directly in front sat a lady with a huge hat. Friend tapped her on the shoulder requesting its removal. The lady swiftly obliged. To her shock the hat owner was Leontine Price! Who would imagine her as a member of the audience?

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Good idea to get up to ask an usher to intervene unless you’re in the middle of a row.

    Nothing worse than a coughing jag. I once helped out a woman who couldn’t stop. A lozenge buried in my bag saved the day.

    Wonder how come Leontine didn’t realize her hat would block someone’s view. Glad she took it off!

  9. lucrezia Said:

    We wondered the same thing and concluded she was not accustomed to being a member of the audience, so she didn’t think in those terms. Bet she joined the few who would remember and act accordingly!

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