Etiquette for the Theatre Audience

I don’t think any theatre blog would be complete without talking about the etiquette of being an audience member visiting the theatre. Some actors have some real pet hates when it comes to manors of their audience and there are thing that make you as part of an audience talk of the dressing room and there are others that are just plain rude.

So let’s start with the basic housekeeping stuff, TIMEKEEPING this is so important. Don’t be late! When a show is advertised as starting, for example at 7.30pm that mean the curtain goes up at 7.30pm and the actors begin. Unlike the cinema where a showing is advertised 7.30pm but then there are a load of adverts and trailers before the film. So what you are actually going to see at the cinema may not actually start until 8.15pm or 8.20pm therefore you can afford to be 10 or 15 minutes late as nobody really minds during adverts.

When you are late you are not just disturbing the people in the row when you are sitting, but you also disturb those around you in other rows as well as the actors on stage. There are some places that won’t admit you into the auditorium once the performance starts, even if you have a ticket and may have paid a fortune for it. But this is definitely a good thing, and I think it’s at the Birmingham Rep that won’t even allow you to return to the performance if you are late back from the interval, they have a special standing room where you can watch the show on a screen.

In the 21st Century we are so luck that as an audience we are not expected to wear our ‘Sunday best’ outfit to attend performances, smart casual is just fine. In fact if you ever go to a performance at Australia’s Sydney Opera House they don’t care what you wear as long as you are on time, if you’re late then you miss out on the performance.

Then we have talking during a performance, this is without a doubt the height of rudeness; you may well have paid for the tickets, but so have the people sitting around you and your conversation wasn’t included in the price of their ticket, you are not the only person watching that performance. Theatres are built for sound to carry, so there will be a fair chance that the actors on stage will also be able to hear your conversation which can put actors off and spoil the show for everyone else.

There has been a lot of talk recently about photography and videoing during performances, and so many time actors have very rightly spoken out against people taking photos while they are performing.

There are so many reasons why you shouldn’t take photos or video a performance in a theatre, the main one is the exactly the same as why it is a criminal offence to record a movie on a hand held device in a cinema, which is copyright. The company presenting the performance has paid for the rights to the author and composer to use the material. You as audience members have only paid to watch it.

There is also data protection; you don’t have permission to take a photo or a video of the individual on stage. Whatever the cost of your ticket it does NOT include permission to take photos of the performers.

If the performers are children then it can cause a lot more problems especially if you then go posting those photos on social media. Things you may not know about certain children is that they may be under the protection of the law, meaning that their location must not be disclosed to a parent or another adult, whatever the reason it is not permitted. And it won’t matter how well you know the families and parents of the children involved these kind of cases, there are something that won’t be spoken about because it’s not easy and sometimes silence on the matter is a legal requirement.

You may think an innocent photo posted in your profile is OK and if you turn off the sharing it will be secure. The fact is that people can still download that photo and then share it by other means. It will get out there, it will fall into the wrong hands and once it is out on the internet it is very hard to remove.

Buy the professional photos or recordings. These you still won’t be able to post online but they will be of much better quality. Anyway, why post performances online? You have just paid somewhere between £10 and £200 for your ticket, if you post your video or photo online you are giving the world a free view of what you paid for with money you have earned, why would you do that? If they want to see it, then they should pay the ticket price just like you and not rely on individuals to post for free viewing online.

A quick break down of  costs used with the sale of your ticket, these will include (but no limited too) things like the rights to perform the material, hire of the venue, make up, costumes, props, set and if it’s a professional performance than the wages of the production team and actors.

Moving on, most venues allow you to take food and drink into the auditorium to consume, as the revenue from these sales usually contributes to the income for running the venue. But as we enjoy the performance while eating and drinking let’s not forget that the noise from our packets can actually be heard on stage unlike the cinema where it is all pre-recorded where that extra noise makes no difference, only to the person sitting next to you.

At the end of the performance take left over cups, bottles and sweet papers out to the foyer, some venues place the stewards to hold rubbish bags for you at doors on the way out. Most theatres these days, especially the smaller ones and regionals the stewards and ushers are volunteers, so they may well have been working elsewhere all day just like you and then come to the theatre to help enhance your experience for the evening. So by the time the show ends all they want to do is go home as they may have work early the next morning, so if they can get away quicker at the end I am sure they would appreciate it.

Finally stage door, for those of you who like to leg it round the back of the theatre after the show to see your favourite actor in the hopes of getting a photograph or an autograph, just be kind. Remember that no actor is obliged to mingle with the crowd after the show again your ticket is purely for the performance inside the building, it does not include a meet and greet afterwards. But there are artists that do go up to the foyer and meet fans after their performance, this usually happens in the smaller and regional theatres.

But in London’s West End and commercial touring shows the stage door is the common entrance and exit for the actors and often there will be a crowd of people waiting at the door at the end of a show. There are going to be times when actors choose to exit by another route through the theatre as they want to get off home or they may have other plans and sure this will be disappointing but it shouldn’t be take personally and you most certainly shouldn’t go sending rude or nasty messages to the individual via social media.

Just imagine if it was you, after you have finished a hard day at work you go to leave work through the main exit you are bombarded by a stream of loyal customers and friend all wanted to speak to you. There are going to be some days you may be able to put up with this, there will be some days when you just want to go home or need to get away quickly for other reasons. And that’s how actors feel about leaving via stage door. They are human just like you, even the big celebrities and they are entitled to privacy and a personal life away from the public eye, so after the performance on stage (which in essence is their day’s work), you owe them the respect and understand if they do come to stage door by just being kind and patient, don’t push or shout and if they don’t come to stage door just know they still appreciate your attendance they just need to be elsewhere.

And that is the basic etiquette of attending theatre in the 21st Century. It’s about treating everyone as you would like to be treated, being kind, have understanding. But most of all enjoy the experience, the team will have worked so hard and will be looking forward to show you what they can do and that what you see is worth every penny you have spent on your ticket.

World Theatre Day 2018

Today is about celebrating culture, education and the arts. First organised in 1961 by the International Theatre Institute (ITI) and UNESCO, it now celebrated in more than 90 countries around the world by lots of different institutes and education centres from schools to theatres.

The basic message is about theatre and international harmony, and ITI usually invite someone to speak on this theme which is then translated into over 50 languages and broadcast through hundreds of media stations.

The International Theatre Institute was founded in 1948, just after the end of World War II and just before the iron curtain fell on Eastern Europe with the cold war. The founders were first UN General Secretary Sir Julian Huxley and playwright JB Presley.

The aims of its founders were to build an organisation that would align with UNESCO’s goals on culture, education and the arts and to empower all members of the performing arts industry whatever their status.

More Information on World Theatre Day: http://www.world-theatre-day.org/worldtheatreday.html

More Information on International Theatre Institute: https://www.iti-worldwide.org/unitedkingdom.html

Is the arch still required?

What will theatres of the future look like? In a time of economic uncertainty and when there seems to be continual government budget cuts and the crowds are support funding cuts to the arts (The Stage 30 June 2016) does the future look bleak? Or is it a Doctor Who opportunity, time to regenerate our theatres and venues?

Some venues are becoming multipurpose with a wide variety uses and more productions are being accommodated with less restrictions. But there are still many venues that have not made this transition whether it is due to funding or tradition. Has the 1900 year tradition where the audience sits in rows looking at the proscenium arch become outdated or has it just become too restrictive for users and creative writers so therefore having its own repercussions on income as only a certain type of production can play to a restricted interest audience.

A new question arises, “Will funding cuts really ruin the arts financially or are the arts bringing it on themselves?” Am I saying we should do away with tradition of an arch? Of course not, but remind ourselves that modern day imagination sees beyond a picture frame style of theatre.

In 2010 the Guardian published an article about theatres being high contributors to the carbon footprints and two years later the Arts Council of England introduced an element into its criteria to encourage the arts to examine their impact on the environment, with the same organisation’s introduction of diversity into the criteria in 2010, it almost seems like ACE aren’t keen to give out funding or is it just they can see beyond tradition?

While there is enough acknowledgement that cuts in funding will continue in the currently climate, there are a lot of people in the industry who will just dig heals in demanding that funding improves, which won’t do any good as when the money has finally gone it won’t be able to just reappear.

Organisations like The New Art Exchange Gallery in Nottingham that heavily rely on funding as they only generates 18% of its income are going to be the worst hit. By contrast and an excellent example to the Arts Industry is the Leicester Curve, a building project that was overrun and well over budget, but now has become a money maker cutting it’s dependency on funding from 33% to 25% with a program that continually looks at ways to become financially better off (ITV News 20 July 2016).

No money has ever been guaranteed as any funding body could collapse or have its own funding cut at any time. Regional’s need to open up by looking out for new ways of being funded this may include going down the commercial line and have local business support, there is always opportunity to help each other in a partnership. But more than that looking at how they spend the money given through funding, what costs could be cut and I don’t mean making staff redundant. But the fact is funding criteria’s are going to get tougher, having to show budget and proving some sort of percentage to self-funding will always be on the cards.

Creating a new diversity of use to a space opens the door to new opportunities which have a high chance of leading to more income. Just imagine what would happen if a venue redeveloped its main auditoria that just has a proscenium arch format into a format where the incoming company had a choice of either an arch, being in the round or a bit of both and still have the same number in their audience. I know there are venues that currently have studios on the side, but these are often smaller then the main auditorium, and not every venue can afford or get the permission to build studios.

If a venue is being redeveloped why not make it far more environmentally friendly, while the cost of installing systems which have a lower impact on the environment can be high, this is usually accompanied by high long term savings. There are money making schemes, for example what if a venue had solar panels it would reduce spending on electricity during the season and during the dark period its feeding electricity back into the National Grid.

There are theatres that taking in conferences and weddings which is a wonderful way to utilise their spaces. But there are also theatres that are possibly too picky on what they accept, even when the production offers to do a profit share. So as a producer when you encounter this response you understand further why we have a public that supports funding cuts to the arts, it looks like the industry just wants free hand outs year on year.

Most theatres plan their seasons months in advance, if it was done on a week to week bases there would never be an audience. So why are we planning theatre funding that way? Do we need to stop thinking about a theatre for tomorrow and start thinking of the imagination of the new works of the future?

Theatre for the Rich

In November 2016 we heard about the Birmingham Rep having its funding cut from the local authority by more the 62%. Though with its international reputation and status the Rep could easily get that money back with just by a slight increase in ticket prices, but if they do that they risk pushing some people outside the threshold of being able to afford the enjoyment of theatre on that scale. Is it possible that over time theatre could become an exclusive club for the rich enough? Theatre regardless of the complaints about diversity has always aimed to be inclusive with its audiences and is one of the main reason theatres became subsidised. Right here in this moment one local authority is forcing a theatre into choosing their audience, is that fair?

With the end of the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Korea coming to a close this weekend it seems appropriate to mention that it is not just theatre that is affected by funding cuts. It seems that cuts in funding continued to be a running theme for 2017 as we heard about funding cuts for the next summer Olympics in 2020 with badminton seeing cuts of up to £2 million and cycling up to £4 million, with archery, fencing, weightlifting and wheelchair rugby all receiving no extra funding at all.

These sports are all expected to perform on the international stage to a high level with an expectation of bringing home more medals than in 2016, yet there will be no money available to coach individual to an international level. But these funding cuts can have their advantages, whereby less money means more pressure to perform well, while techniques may be developed the outcome will always be the same and most schools have a full sports programme where youngster can get involved and new talent is nurtured early on.

However when it comes to talent within theatre the story is very different in schools, drama has already be dropped through EBacc as a compulsory subject in schools so how can new talent be found and be nurtured if the subject is not funded on the curriculum properly with all additional funding for teacher training cut all together? Whatever funding is available to theatres probably won’t be available to nurture talent, and unlike sport the outcome will always be different. Every show needs a different same budget and different techniques need to be applied, with only the fundamentals of creativity remain the same.

Visualising the future of theatre and the arts with funding continuing to be cut, ticket prices rising to a point where only the rich can afford to see the performances. The number of rich people in our society is a percentage that wouldn’t fill all our theatres on a good night.

We must always remember that in a time of trouble, in the world in which we live and the damaged economic climate that we are experiencing, the arts and creative industry play a vital role in today’s communities. They don’t just serve as places of entertainment and education for audiences but more importantly they provide a much needed escape for a couple of hours from the real world, not just for the rich.

Funding, Diversity and New Works

There has been some discussion about proving the use of diversity in the arts to gain to funding from the Arts Council, as well as funding cuts from government, topped with how hard it is to fund new works.

Surely there’s a link between these issues that almost make it a catch 22 situation. Most of the work that is well known has been around for many years and their characters and stories are defined by a certain period in history. In rare cases like the works of Shakespeare directors can try new ways of modernising the perception in an aim to reach a much younger audience but the language and script will always be of Shakespeare’s day.

An example of a well-known work that was written to tackle issues of the day and quite comfortably cover diversity was the published in 1960 and was later adapted to the screen (1962) and stage (1990), To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, it dealt so beautifully with racial injustice as well as those of rape and social inequality.

By contrast just 60 years earlier in what became one of the worlds most loved films was first published in 1900 The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It’s first adaptation in 1939 saw producers and directors have an almost all white cast, with the young lead character played by a white girl from Minnesota (Judy Garland). As the comedian Stephen K Amos once said, ‘There were black people in rural Kansas in 1939 they just weren’t allowed on the yellow brick road’

Recently Steven Berkoff said ‘White actors should be allowed to play Othello’. And he is probably right, but to me this suggestion seems a desperate far cry in helping the issues surrounding diversity since Othello was written as a way to show the inequality of black people in the 16th Century. Whilst a white actor could easily play Othello it would mean having the rest of the cast as coloured actors, but we did this would it still seem authentic? As the time and place in which it is set a white men had never experienced the corruption and unfair treatment of a black men.

But diversity is not about what story the play is telling, it’s about those performing as well. In the Stage (28 May 2015) Maria Friedman speaks of older actresses going into directing simply because there isn’t much in the way of roles for them to play as actors. Whilst directors today do their best to accommodate the sexual, gender and colour origination of actors when auditioning, they are still restricted by what is demanded of the script. In well-known productions they can’t just go changing the gender of a character or all of a sudden make them a wheelchair user, because it’s not what the audience expects. But why do they use the well-known material? Simply because it’s lower risk higher chance of gaining the funding needed to stage the production.

I am sure there are lots of writers that have addressed today’s issue, but unless you’re a well known writer then getting funding to get work commissioned is hard. You may be able to get the funding if you have a household name performing in your play, but would funding stretch to cover this cost? But does using well known household names really deliver a solution to the diversity problem as there are still hundreds of very talented working class actors who would be missing out on a opportunity to forward their career in the arts.

So for theatre to experience and show the full length of diversity and the problems that come with it in today’s society new material needs be written and funds made available for it to come to life.