Theater Etiquette: American Rule versus European Rule

Arriving at the Theater

It is best to arrive at a theater at least twenty minutes before the performance so that coats and hats can be checked, programs can be secured and perused, and reserved seats can be identified and accessed without incident, for the place for “drama” is the stage, and arriving “fashionably late” or in the “nick of time” is considered most impolite amongst theater-types—especially to all the people in their finery who must make way so that the late-arriver can frantically,  and oftentimes inelegantly, make way to his seat. Arriving on-time also serves a very practical purpose since no one will be admitted into the theater while the performance is in progress.

If a gentleman is escorting a lady, she should precede him into the row. And if one of the seats to be occupied by the couple is situated on the aisle, the gentleman should occupy the aisle seat.

In America, when entering a row in which there are people already sitting, one should face the stage en route to one’s designated seat, presenting one’s back, or partial-back, to those already seated. Upon occupying the designated seat, a courteous “good evening” to persons occupying the seats on the immediate right and left is sufficient, and no further conversation is required or expected until the end of the performance, when a courteous, “Enjoy the rest of your evening” should be exchanged.  In Europe, when entering a row in which there are people already sitting, the custom is to face the people, with one’s back towards the stage, as one makes one’s way towards one’s designated seat. And whenever direct eye contact is made, a transient smile, slight bow of the head, or “good evening,” “please excuse me,” or “thank you,” as warranted by the circumstances, may be offered to those seated.

A gentleman should be sure to return from his intermission at least three to five minutes before the performance resumes so as to be comfortably seated once the curtain is raised.

Persons suffering from persistent coughing, sneezing, or sinusitis, for example, should reschedule their theater outing for when salubrity has been restored since the sounds that accompany such health conditions serve to distract not only members of the audience, but also the performers.

Finally, all electronic devices that are capable of disturbing others must be turned off or programmed to a setting that does not disturb or distract. And texting, e-mailing, tweeting, instant-messaging, etc., simply must be suspended during performances.


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