I can’t believe I spent two years in New York and never wrote a post about Broadway theatre etiquette. Let’s fix that right now, yeah?
First off, you can wear practically anything, formal or fairly casual. I was usually coming straight from work, so I would arrive at the theatre in a t-shirt and jeans. So wear whatcha want! (Except maybe a swimsuit.) (And please wear pants. And shoes.)
Use the restroom before the show. Sometimes a theatre will have restrooms on multiple levels — house staff will usually make note of that as everyone’s entering the lobby.
Most shows have a bar/food area where you can get snacky snacks. This brings up a personal preference on my part: please do not bring snacky snacks into the theater. Eat them beforehand. There is nothing worse, as someone who saved up for MONTHS to see a show, to have to listen to someone’s crinkling bag of M&Ms because they don’t know how to READ THE ROOM and wait for a loud moment that’ll drown out their own wandering fingers.
If you have a young child that’s going to be a potential problem, buy an aisle seat. You will disturb far fewer people when you have to inevitably get up and drag your scream machine out into the lobby.
Never use your cell phone during a Broadway show, because it distracts actors AND audience members. I’ve seen people looking at their cell phone during Phantom of the Opera, Paramour, and A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, among others. Lin-Manuel Miranda even makes a habit of calling phone users out on his Twitter. Just please, do not take photos or video, do not scroll through Facebook, do not check the time. Turn the phone off; don’t be that guy. If you’re desperate to maintain contact with the technological mainframe, check your phone during the show’s intermission.
Crawling over the backs of theatre chairs is incredibly disrespectful to the theatre and can potentially damage the chairs. Even so, I see people do this all the time. This is why aisles exist. I don’t care if you think it’s “easier” to go for the former option: use the aisles.
When should you show up to see the show? Whenever you want, as long as it’s BEFORE THE SHOW STARTS. Some shows WILL NOT SEAT YOU if you are late. I aim for being about 30 min early (especially if I want to get a drink/snack). The early birds line up outside the theater in a nice long line, just for the sake of order and stability, I guess, since the line means nothing. Everyone gets to their seats at practically the same time anyway.
IMPORTANT: After the show, actors will exit through the back door, and audience members usually can meet them briefly for photos/playbill signatures. (I would highly recommend waiting around for this, because this is how I got to meet Mark Strong, Bill Nighy, Jeff Daniels, Gabriel Byrne, and Carey Mulligan, y’all.) Sometimes there are multiple exits, so look for the one that has a couple of security guards setting up metal partitions outside of it. They’ll tell audience members to stand behind the partitions, forming a row on either side of the exit.
Also, when getting those photos/playbill signatures, be nothing but courteous to the actors. They owe you nothing more than what they’ve already given during the performance. They are being nice by stopping to chat with you. And many of them will only exchange a few words with you because they’re trying to meet-and-greet as many happy theatre goers as possible. Don’t take it personally — they mean well!
If you’re not waiting around outside for the actors, then please start walking away from the theatre. People tend to exit the lobby and the abruptly stop right outside, which blocks the exit, preventing other theatre goers from going on their merry way. Be courteous to your fellow theatre goer: when the show is over, LEAVE THE PREMISES. (Plus, if you have the money for it, it’s far easier to get a taxi when you’re away from the bulk of people.)
Be extremely nice to ushers/box office attendants/anyone else that’s a part of the show’s staff. Their primary purpose is to get you in and out of the theatre in a safe, timely manner. If the show is delayed, they all have to smile and roll with it. If there’s an incident in the lobby, they have to smile and roll with it. If an audience member gets upset with them for any reason, they have to smile and roll with it.
On a similar note, do everything an usher tells you to do. It makes the whole process faster and they’ll love you for it.
AND FINALLY: Keep your playbill. It’s a great souvenir.
Go watch some great theatre, and thanks for reading,