Broadway Theater Etiquette
- Opening Night
If you are lucky enough to acquire a coveted invitation to a Broadway show’s opening night performance, this red carpet event will leave you dizzy among a dazzling spectacle of stars and photographers along the red carpet. Formal wear reigns on opening night, so deck yourself out in a suit or formal dress. In recent years, more quirky style choices have become acceptable, but even with more creative fashion, keep it dressy – jeans, sneakers, and sundresses are still no-gos.
- During the Run
It used to be that patrons would dress up for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening performances, wearing any style in the range from cocktails to formal wear, while allowing nicer business and cocktail attire to suffice for weeknight performances. However, in recent years, that dress code has relaxed somewhat. Going to the theater is still a special event, so if you can dress up at least a little, do so.
- Jeans or No Jeans?
Wearing jeans has its champions and naysayers when broaching appropriate theater attire. While the anti-jeans group believes denim shows a lack of respect for the theater, the pro-jeans camp maintains that paying hundreds of dollars for a ticket allows you to dress any way you want. The truth is, during hot summer months, jeans and shorts are seen as often as slacks for weeknight and matinee performances. And with the advent of “dressy” jeans (often with nicer fits, no tears or worn spots, and darker washes), it’s not uncommon to see a nice shirt or blouse paired with dark jeans and a few accessories.
- Scent of a Woman … or Man
Scented body products are not necessary to life, but if you do use them, a little dab will do just fine. You will be sitting in a crowded theater for a few hours, and the person next to you may be allergic to your perfume‘s volatile oils. From shampoo to deodorant, perfume to aftershave, use unscented body care products out of courtesy to those around you – and it goes without saying, but make sure you’re clean and fresh when you come to the theater, not straight off a heavy workout.
Before the Show
- Pre-Theater Dinner
As with movie theaters, bringing outside food into the theater is not allowed, nor is it particularly wise. The theater’s concessions will be open, but eat a full dinner beforehand. Enjoying a pre-show dinner is part of the Broadway tradition, and there are a wide variety of restaurants throughout the Theater District and Hell’s Kitchen in Midtown Manhattan.
Give your commute to the theater twice as long as normal to accommodate heavy traffic, a long line at the box office, and other delays. Arrive at least 30 minutes prior to show time if not sooner. An early arrival ensures plenty of time to enjoy the theater’s décor, peruse available show souvenirs, and read your Playbill.
- In the Theater
Allow an usher to tell you where your seats are. Even if you scouted your seats online beforehand, the usher can tell you the best way to get to your seats, assist with accessibility needs such as wheelchair access or assisted hearing devices, or if there is anything you need to know about that section.
- Bathroom Break
Theaters typically open a half hour before show time. Take this opportunity to go to the bathroom, whether you think you can wait or not. The restrooms in Broadway theaters are notoriously small and the lines are notoriously long, so you don’t want to be stuck in a long line during the fifteen-minute intermission!
During the Show
- Cell Phones
Turn your cell phone off, and leave it off. Completely and totally off. Not on vibrate, which is actually a lot more audible than you think. Off off. Texting and filming during the show are absolute no-nos. Though checking your phone or using social media during intermission is allowed, be sure to turn your phone off again before the second act starts.
Intermission is the 15 to 20 minute break between acts. Modern plays and musicals usually have one intermission, between Acts 1 and 2, whereas an opera might have two intermissions, separating acts 2 and 3, or 3 and 4, and so on. A growing number of plays and musicals have opted for no intermission, but the house staff will usually inform you of this fact as you’re getting seated.
During intermission, the lobby concessions bar offers drinks and snacks (for a considerable fee), including alcoholic beverages. But know your limits — even a “happy drunk” will make enemies if they disrupt a Broadway show, and may even be asked to leave.
In opera and other classical performances such as the symphony or Shakespeare plays, it is customary to hold applause until an entire segment (or the whole work) is completed. For musicals, however, applause is typically welcomed after songs – although you’re also likely to hear audiences cheer for a rousing piece of dialogue, or remain quiet after a particularly tragic scene rather than break the moment with applause.
- Standing Ovation
If you feel the show earned a standing ovation, then get up on your feet and clap till your hands are red and stinging. Truly excellent productions garner screaming standing ovations every night, so feel free to join in. But feel free to remain seated if the show wasn’t exactly to your liking. However, leaving up the aisles during the curtain call is quite rude.
After the Show
- Flowers Certain special occasions such as opening night or closing night may end with the audience throwing flowers to the stage during curtain call – or at least that’s the image pop culture loves to paint. In real life, though, this is generally discouraged. Keep your flowers or gifts and hand them to the actors personally at the stage door.
Occasionally, a “talkback” is scheduled after a performance. This special event allows you to connect with the actors and learn about the process of bringing the characters to life on stage. Talkbacks are announced on the show’s website and via social media
- Autographs Crowding the stage door to get autographs is as popular as ever, particularly when Hollywood and television stars are the marquee draw. But be warned: actors can spend half an hour or longer to change out of costume and greet personal guests, and some actors do not stay for autographs at all. Be polite to the stage door and security personnel, as they will keep you informed of who’s coming out and who isn’t. If your favorite actor does come out, don’t try to dominate their attention: offer a genuine compliment as you get your photo and/or autograph.
These tips are sure to help you have a smooth and enjoyable experience at the theater – and they’ll make you pretty popular with your fellow theatergoers (and the theater staff!) as well!