Theatre Etiquette 101

This week, despite tooth pains, I was able to go and see “Singing in The Rain” which was put on by “The Production Company” and held at the State Theatre in the Arts Centre. I love the theatre, especially musicals. Ever holidays while other kids grandparents took them to the movies or the zoo my gran would take us to see a musical (my other nana would take us to art galleries – so awesome). I would put on my best dress, she would set my hair in hot rollers and it was an event. It was something I looked forward to. I was mesmerised by live performances. One of my favourite school holidays was spent with her while she performed in a two week run of “42nd Street”. I was given free reign – I watched/listened to the show from every angle – including the orchestra pit. I fell in love with my first gay chorus boy and became desperate to learn how to tap dance (though not actually desperate enough to take classes….)

Miss Fairchild - Theatre

The last show my gran took me to was “Les Miserables” when I was 16. I was blown away. Until then all the musicals I had seen had been happy, brightly coloured and cheerful. This was the opposite and yet so moving (I have owned the soundtrack ever since (once upon a time on CD and now on my ipod). But she left me with a love for live performance and a very strong sense of what is an isn’t appropriate. She died long before people would have mobile phones going off in the theatre (she would be mortified) but what I witnessed the other night made me furious. So mad I knew this post would have to be written. So here we go….

Dressing (UP) For the Theatre

“During the opening weeks and at the evening performance in New York of a play or musical comedy presenting stars of highest rank, a lady sitting “down front” in the orchestra wears a semi-evening dress, a gentleman a “tuxedo”. White ties and tails and low-cut evening dresses are never worn at the theatre except by those who are going on to a party later. Whether or not people are going on elsewhere later naturally affects their choice of dress. The present trend of fashion leans, however, very decidedly toward the ordinary day clothes for both men and women, especially when the play has been running for several months.” 

– Emily Post’s Etiquette (1945 Edition)

In my opinion the theatre is a great place to dress up. While I do get quite distressed at the people dressing like they were going to the movies or getting “maccas” (McDonalds for my non aussie friends), I don’t actually believe in dress codes, especially at the dressier end of the scale – especially for the arts. I am a big believer that the arts (art galleries, theatre, opera, the symphony) are for everyone, regardless of your socio-economic status (and for people who are on the lower end of that status there are always great free and cheap events run – don’t be afraid to look into it!). I think too rigid a dress code could make it even more inaccessible. If you had to not only buy tickets, but a tux – how would the average person (who doesn’t own a tux) manage?

BUT (and it’s a HUUUUUUGGGGGGE BUT (much like mine – get it?)

The theatre is, even more than it was in 1945, a special occasion for most of us. Things I saw people wearing the other night (which happened to be opening night at one of Melbourne’s major theatres) were thongs, t-shirts with offensive slogans, baseball caps, hoodies and tracksuits. I also should add these were on grown adults (and not teenagers dragged along). As I mentioned in THIS POST (when I went to see “Giselle” by the Paris Opera Ballet) I could tell the difference between those that were in “their finest” and those who really didn’t care.

So with that in mind…what do I actually recommend wearing to the theatre? Something nice. Something that feels slightly dressy to you. This could be a nice pant suit or even a simple LBD. Closed shoes. For men I prefer pants and shirt – tie/suit optional.

What did I wear? Miss Fairchild - Theatre

50’s Dress – Audrey Scarlet Vintage / Vintage Hat – Gifted from Lilli at Frocks & Frou Frou/ Back Seamed Stockings – Levante /60’s Evening Coat – Audrey Scarlet Vintage / Black Ferragamos – Ebay / Vintage Japanese Silk Clutch – Etsy

This is obviously not what I would expect everyone to wear and a Matinee is very different again. I almost always wear my everyday dresses for a matinee, but with slightly nicer accessories.


“All Women whose hats rise above the skull line or have any sticking up bows or feathers should take them off without having to be asked to do so. “

– Emily Post’s Etiquette (1945 Edition)

THIS!!!! As a hat wearer I often have my hair designed around my hat and my hat very securely attached to my head. This means I am extra careful about what hats I wear to the theatre as there is no way I could take off my hat while out and remain looking decent. This can also be said for big hair, headbands ect. Anything that could block or distract those behind you should be taken off. Obviously men should always remove their hats at the theatre.


The cloak room is there for a reason, please use it. If you are worried about being cold take a cardigan – but please don’t put your coat over the back of chairs or on the floor. Some of those ailse are loooooong and you will be surprised how often you need to get up and down to let people pass.

Speaking of getting up and down – most of the theatres I have been to have seats that flip up. If this is the case please stand up to let people pass you. If you don’t be prepared to be tripped over, fallen onto and have your feet (and bags/coats) trodden on.

SHOW UP ON TIME (and by that I mean early). Most of the shows I have seen have a lock out protocol. Just as curtains go up the doors close and remain locked until intermission. Not only might you miss the first act, it is damn rude to come in late – it isn’t a movie. There are real people on stage and you coming in after the show starts is a huge distraction. This also goes for intermission. Make sure you are back in your seat on time. The other night half the theatre was empty when the curtain went up and people were slowly wandering back to their seats.

 Again – it is a live show – applause is the polite thing to do. If you don’t know when, just clap when others do. I sat in a box the other night with 4 people who only clapped at the very end of the show. I heard them talking in intermission about how much they were enjoying it….so why no applause?!? In my opinion it is incredibly rude (and more than a little lazy) to not give applause, especially at the end of a musical number.

Without a doubt, the most rude thing I experienced was some people sneaking off during the cast taking their bows. Once again, this is not a movie. It is not like the movie credits where you can leave because the movie is over. The show is not over until the curtain goes down and the house lights come up. Until then please stay in your seats.

I wish I didn’t need to say this – but for fucks sake (pardon my language) turn your god damn phone off!!!! Even just picking up your phone to look at it can distract those around you. If you are worried about an emergency tell your partner/parent/friend where you are sitting and which theatre you are at. In a real emergency they will come and get you. If not I promise you, you will not die with your phone off for two lots of 45 minutes. As someone who checks twitter/instagram/email every five seconds – I thought it would be hard, but it isn’t.  If your phone does ring, for god sake don’t answer it. Turn it off straight away and if you need to take the call leave the theatre and call the person back.

If photos are permitted (which they often aren’t) DO NOT USE A FLASH!!!! Again, they are real people on the stage and it is also super distracting for the rest of us trying to watch the show. If you really want pictures for your blog/scrapbook/facebook page have a look online for a promotional picture to use.

Miss Fairchild - Theatre

A non flash photo just after doors opened (see all the empty seats). I am too busy watching performances to attempt to photograph them. 

While the theatre sells drinks and snacks, I personally find it rude and distracting to have someone munching on chips beside me. If possible keep snacks to intermission. I don’t mind so much at a matinee as they are often filled with kids and as a child who grew up LOVING the theatre I would never want to deny any child the opportunity to enjoy a show and that will often mean a snack to help keep them in place.

With that in mind – I personally don’t think evening shows are suitable for kids – not because of the time of day or anything, just because matinees are more relaxed, it is more family orientated and in my opinion less likely your kid will upset someone else if they are jumping up and down or dancing along or eating a pack of chips. Also the matinees are also filled with seniors who for the most part seem to enjoy watching the kids enjoy the theatre and eating their own chips and lollies LOL.

I know I probably seem harsh or like an old fuddy duddy, but I really do feel like these things shouldn’t be so hard. If they are maybe the theatre isn’t really for you?

Anything I missed? Am I being too harsh? Let me know!

Miss Fairchild xoxo

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13 Responses to Theatre Etiquette 101

  1. Deb says:

    Great post! I went to Wakakirri last night (Aussie schools comp for story telling through drama dance song) and at $30 a ticket(no photos or food allowed) there were screaming kids and over zealous parents. No manners! seriously, we all love our kids but Woo-wooing constantly?! I didn’t see any thongs, and this I’d Qld, so I count myself lucky. But even movies ($19) are special to me and I dress up!

  2. Sammi says:

    Brava! As a working actress and avid theatre-goer, I completely agree with all of these points! Seeing the state of audiences nowadays makes me sad, at times. I also work for an orchestra, and notice the same sad state with a lot of our patrons — especially from younger generations. I hate to see traditions and etiquette fall by the wayside!

    xox Sammi

  3. You are not being harsh at all!!! I go to the ballet a lot and these things annoy me hugely. The worst thing for me is people leaving before the final curtain. It just strikes me as rude and ungrateful. Very good post my dear. Should br conpulsory reading before attending a show! Xxx

  4. Sesame says:

    I don’t think either that you are being too harsh. Not at all! You’re absolutely right about wearing something nice to the theatre. I think dressing nicely is a way of showing respect. You’re right about the other things, too. Sadly, I’ve experienced a decline of good manners when it comes to other situations, too, especially with regard to younger generations. But then again, I’m a bit of a nostalgist even when it comes to etiquette.

    • Sadly, it wasn’t the younger generations that were the worst offenders. It was people my age (30s) to around 45/50yo. I believe manners are timeless – I just wish others felt the same way 😦

  5. Not harsh at all because it’s all about manners and being respectful. I get really annoyed with Husband when he refuses to watch the in flight safety demo on planes (his argument was “I’ve seen it many, many times” because he used to fly a lot for work). My take is the person is doing this job and they’re doing it for your benefit so shoosh up and show some respect!

    When I was little, people would clap at the end of a cinema movie. What’s happened to that?!

  6. nessbow says:

    Although I don’t get to go to the theatre very often, it’s something that I love. To me, it’s a very special occasion and I love getting dressed up to go to a show. Your advice is fantastic, and although most of these things are pretty common sense it’s a bit surprising how many people forget to do them.

    • I don’t get to go much any more. The last time I went to the theatre before this was “Annie” and that was taking Miss 13 to see it. Before that it was years and years. Maybe that’s why it means even more. I hardly ever get to go out and do something grown up and get dressed up. Sadly it is all common sense and basic manners – it seems we need to re-educate some people.

  7. Pingback: Sabrina Goes to Paris: Part 4 | Miss Fairchild's Charm School

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