Why do I behave the way I do at the theatre, specifically Broadway? Where did the rules I follow come from and am I wrong for not wanting to follow them?
These are just a few of the questions that kept replaying in my head after seeing Matilda: The Musical this past weekend. I experienced conflicting feelings about the audience that I was a part of. One half of me struggled to maintain calm and focused in a space consisting of mostly children who could not sit still, talked throughout the entire show and nearly drove me crazy. But the other half of me was so excited to see young children at the theatre. Once I started to think about this more, I realized that there are a lot of unspoken rules of the theatregoing experience that I automatically adhere to. When I am at a fancy Broadway show - I silently watch, stay put and stay quiet.
But who established these rules?
The target audience? I'm assuming considering the price of Broadway tickets that the audience has to consist of mostly rich people. For the most part, they are the ones willing and able to drop mad cash on tickets. And when you are dropping mad cash on tickets, you don't want to be disturbed. You just don't talk, eat or leave your seat. This is some real fancy shit! So you handle it as such. As a younger audience member, I struggle with wanting to feel "good enough" to be there so I follow the rules and do what everyone around me is doing. I mean, if I was in their shoes, I'd want my experience to be nothing less than sophisticated.
Unofficial rules are still rules right?
Now I definitely don't think I am a blind follower. These rules, while I'm conflicted about how they came about and when we should follow them, I can understand why they would be put in place. And that is simply about respect for the artists involved as well as the people around you. Think about how distracting it would be for everyone involved if the audience didn't behave "appropriately"? On the other hand though, no performer likes a half dead audience. Finding a good balance between being a respectful, engaged audience member without being too "sleepy" or too "rowdy" is challenging and I have noticed will drastically differ depending on where the show is - the Broadway crowds that I've been a part of have behaved differently than Off Broadway and even off-Off Broadway crowds.
As a younger audience member, I struggle with the balance between the rules and wanting to feel free to do what I need or want to do at the theatre. How can we, as young theatregoers change our experience to fit us?
1. GO TO THE THEATRE!
That seems obvious right? But, if we make it a point to be present, then we can work towards changing the target audience and therefore slowly work towards changing these unofficial rules.
2. CREATE NEW NORMS!
Now I'm not saying to run onto a stage in the middle of a show - we are young, not reckless. But, take a breath and enjoy yourself wholeheartedly. Watch actively, leave the silly rules and limitations at the door and be in it with the people involved who worked so hard to put this show together for you. If that means I need to laugh even when no one else does or take a trip to the restroom in the middle of the show, then so be it.