The elements of musical theatre include the actors, the set/props/physical elements, the music, lyrics and text, and the audience. Yes, the audience is 1 of 4 key elements that makes a production complete, and without it, your show isn't really alive. However, actors, musicians and set designers are all trained on how to contribute to a production, whereas audiences generally show up and are given no guidance as to how they should contribute as that key 4th member. Here are a few tips to observe while seeing your next show:
It is customary to dress up for the theatre.
Although the attire does change from day to evening performances, as well as regionally; many people still chose to dress up for theatre performances. Jeans are rarely appropriate. This is also true for orchestral concerts and ballets. Take the opportunity to pull the tags off of that beautiful cocktail dress or grab a new dress shirt, and honor this tradition. The clothes you wear send a message about the level of respect you have for your fellow audience members, actors and crew members.
On time is early, and turn off your cell phone.
Showing up 30 minutes before a show is considered on time. This allows you the time needed to get a drink, use the restroom and find your seats. 15 minutes ahead of time is last call, you're cutting it close. Showing up at the show's start time guarantees that you'll miss the beginning of the show and you'll have to enter with a flashlight-equipped usher, which disturbs everyone. Keep your phone off, not on silent mode, off. Aside from the obvious distracting qualities of texting or a blaring ringtone, there is a much, much bigger problem that cell phones cause. Crew members working backstage at a show communicate via wireless headset. Cell phone signals interfere with the headsets, making it very difficult to do their job. This leads to missed cues and a possibly botched performance.
As noted above, audience members are the 4th member of a 4 member team. You play a crucial role in the energy of the show, how the actors respond during key plot events, and how the story is told and felt by the group as a whole. Actors feed off emotional energy from each other, and from the audience. Give them something to work with by paying attention, getting lost in the story, and reacting truthfully, whether that's laughing, crying, or simply listening. Allow yourself to feel the story.
Quiet Off Stage.
Much enjoyment of the theatre comes from listening to it. Please keep your fellow audience members in consideration. Keep the conversation to a minimum and speak quietly. Try to wait until intermission to get up to use the restroom or to speak to your neighbor.
The theatrical world is littered with stories of audience members walking on the stage, walking backstage, found wandering through tunnels or shops. This is not only inconsiderate, but also potentially unsafe. Actos and crew are used to the flow of the backstage area. During a high school show in my hometown, an audience member walked onto the stage. He then swung open a wing door, striking teenaged actress with great force and therefore injuring her. There are large moving set pieces, rotating sets, dark spaces, and extremely heavy weights. There are always ushers to tell you where to go. Ask them politely for directions.
Keep these in mind for the next time you go to the theatre, and create an enjoyable experience for yourself and the crew.