The Ten Commandments of Audience Etiquette

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In my last post I talked about how to deal with uncooperative audiences as a performer. However since there are two sides to the equation (and turnabout is fair play) I wanted to discuss audience etiquette as well. I have seen some pretty bad behavior from certain audiences and audience members over the years. What makes it really frustrating is audience etiquette is not difficult. It is simply a matter of respecting the performance onstage as well as your fellow audience members. With that in mind (as well as help from emilypost.com) I have put together a list of Ten Commandments for Audience Members.

1) Thou Shalt Know Your Venue: Those of you that read the previous post will note that this is also the first piece of advice I gave to performers. However knowing the type of venue that you will be in and what type of performance you are attending is just as important for audience members since different venues permit or discourage different types of behavior. Obviously a theatre or classical concert will have very different expectations of behavior then a rock concert.

2) Thou Shalt Arrive Early: Everybody knows when you go to the movies you have to sit through several commercials and previews before you get see the film. Generally, this is not the case with concerts and other performance events. Arriving early will allow you to find your seats and do whatever else you need to do to get settled before the show begins. If you do arrive late, try to wait for a break in the performance to enter (a scene change or applause) and go to your seat as quickly and quietly as possible.

3) Thou Shalt Not Make Excessive Noise: As stated previously the type of venue you’re at might play a role in this. However the audience has come to hear a performance and not you. With that in mind it’s generally a good idea to keep talking to a minimum. You should also silence your cellphone and other noise making devices or at least put them on vibrate. Be mindful of other sounds too-slurping drinks, unwrapping candy/gum/cough drops, excessive coughing, rattling programs, humming/singing along, or rummaging through belongings can be annoying to other audience members and (if they are conscious of it) the performers (emilypost.com).

4) Thou Shalt Be Mindful of Seating and Posture: If you are in an auditorium seating is often arranged in such a way that a person in the seats behind can see between the two seats in front (emilypost.com). This can make it hard to see if someone is slumping, leaning forward, or resting their head on their partners shoulder (Ibid). If you are at an outdoor venue or a standing room only club try and make sure you are not blocking anyone’s view of the stage.

5) Thou Shalt Be Respectful of Photography and Videography Policies: In the age of selfies and social media we might be used to photographing and documenting every event we go to. However using flash photography or taking videos can be distracting (and even dangerous) for performers and can disturb other audience members. For this reason it is generally preferred one not photograph or videotape a performance. If photography/videotaping is allowed don’t use flash photography and make sure you are not blocking or disturbing other audience members. However, even if cameras are allowed I think it should be noted that you will probably have a far richer experience if you are a full participant in the moment rather then an observer behind a device.

6) Thou Shalt Be Mindful of Your Children or Pets (if allowed): First of all make sure any show you are taking your child to is age appropriate for them. If possible talk to them about audience etiquette ahead of time. When you are at the venue keep an eye on your children at all times. If your child is crying or creating a disturbance take them to the lobby or another area where they will not disturb other audience members (my blood still boils at the memory of one concert I went to where an audience member allowed her baby to wail through a majority of the show instead of taking the child to the lobby). If you are at a venue where pets are allowed keep them on a leash, take them somewhere else if they’re creating a disturbance and pick up any droppings.

7) Thou Shalt Talk to Venue Staff About Unsavory Characters: If there is another member of the audience that is making noise a quick shush might be fine. However, if the person continues throughout the performance your shushing will only add to the disturbance. In that case try to find an usher, security officer or other official who will be able to deal with the offender. On a more serious note, if you feel that you or any other audience member is being threatened, harassed or is any in danger let venue security know as soon as possible and try to get to a safe place.

8) Thou Shalt Not Leave Before the Fat Lady Sings (or if you must Thou Shalt Do So Unobtrusively): Leaving a performance early is incredibly rude to the performers. Of course emergencies happen so if you absolutely must leave (hint: trying to beat the crowd to the parking lot is not an acceptable excuse) try to wait for a break (set change, applause, etc.) and exit as quickly and quietly as you can.

9) Thou Shalt Clean Up After Thyself: Dispose of any trash in a trash can and try to wipe up any spills or pick up any dropped food (emilypost.com). If there was a spill try to let someone from the venue know-this is not only a courtesy to them but to the next person who has your seat (Ibid). Don’t be one of those people that leaves your trash behind because “the janitors will get that.” The cleaning staff has enough to do and they don’t need inconsiderate people making their jobs more difficult.

10) Thou Shalt Have Fun: There is nothing worse for a performer then having an unappreciative audience. Conversely, there is nothing better then a performance in front of an attentive and engaged audience- where they laugh at all the jokes, sway to the music, and give you a standing ovation at the end of the night. Ultimately whether it’s a concert, ballet, or a comedy show people go to enjoy a pleasurable experience. The relationship between a performer and their audience is a symbiotic one; if you respect and appreciate the artist(s) they will put on a show you won’t forget.

Crowd Control: How to Deal with an Uncooperative Audience

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As a musician and actress, one of the most frustrating things I’ve dealt with are uncooperative audiences. Sometimes it’s due to inattentiveness or an uninterested attitude. Other times it can be due to outright rude behavior or heckling.
The relationship between the performer and the audience is highly important to the success of a performer. However, any performer can tell you a story of at least one audience (or members of an audience) that didn’t act appropriately or were indifferent to the performance. This isn’t limited to performers in obscurity. In July of this year Ray LaMontagne stormed offstage and demanded two audience members be ejected from his show for talking during his set at Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids Michigan (Karan). On the other side of the coin, Jack White ended a set at Detroit’s Fox Theatre early and has sworn never to play there again following a show where he cited the crowd’s lack of enthusiasm (Parks). While LaMontagne and White’s reactions are certainly understandable to many performers, they are probably not actions we can afford to take. So what is a performer to do? Below I have included some tips for performers that can hopefully help in keeping these situations from happening or at the very least de-escalating them.

1) Understand Your Venue: The type of venue you’re performing in does have an impact in many cases on what you can and should expect from your audience. If you are a violinist performing at a classical recital or an actor performing in a theatre you can probably expect a fairly well behaved audience (Estrin). Any breaches of etiquette will more likely then not be taken care of by other audience members (who might chastise the offender) or even the venue’s staff. However what if you are performing at a party, bar, festival or a public space like a shopping mall? Well unfortunately even though the lack of attention may wound your ego there probably isn’t much you can do because at many of these events people can also come to hang out and not just listen to music (Ibid). However if a crowd (or someone in it) is truly out of control you might need to have the club manager, bouncer, or whoever else is running the show step in (Bliesener, Knopper). Try to get to know these people ahead of time so that if a situation does occur you’ll know who you can rely on (Ibid).

2) Know your audience: This often goes hand in hand with understanding your venue. However in many ways it deserves it’s own category since knowing the type of audience to expect and what they like can go a long way to putting on a successful show. This might mean playing more covers then originals. In other cases it might mean playing more of a particular genre (i.e. playing mostly country music at a country/western bar or more rock at a biker bar). If you can, try to take requests and if you can’t play a song let the person know as nicely as possible (Bliesener, Knopper). However, don’t forget (especially if you are an original artist) to try and build your own audience. If there is anyone at a gig who seems especially interested in your work reach out to them; get them on your mailing list, your Facebook page, etc. Even if you get just one new fan at a venue, over time you can build momentum. Eventually you can reach a point where you are rewarded with audiences that are there for you.

3) Try to resist confrontation: While you may be tempted to confront a heckler or other uncooperative audience members, generally it’s not the best course of action. In many cases this situation can backfire by escalating the situation and further alienating the individuals involved. You also run the risk of alienating other audience members who might be friends with the heckler or may otherwise be turned off by a hostile response (however arguably deserved it may have been). In many cases the best thing you can do is to simply launch into your next song/poem/etc (Bliesener, Knopper). Hecklers in particular thrive on the attention they receive from their antics and ignoring them can sometimes shut them up (though of course if they are too unruly you might need to allow the venue to handle the situation). One tactic, recommended by pianist Robert Estrin, can be to play or speak more quietly. Obviously this isn’t a perfect solution for all performers (a heavy metal band can only get so quiet). However sometimes this can draw people in more and those that can’t hear might take it upon themselves to silence any offenders.

Ultimately as artists and performers we will at some point have those moments where no matter what we do an audience may not respond in the way we want them to. Hopefully though the tips provided here can help. If all else fails, just try to focus on playing the best you can and when the show is over focus on your next performance. In the words of Mr. White from the film That Thing You Do “If the crowd doesn’t go wild for you, don’t worry. They will tomorrow.”

(If you have any stories or tips of your own on dealing with uncooperative audiences please leave them in the comments below.)

Bibliography and Works Cited

Bliesener, Mark, and Steve Knopper. “I’ve Got the Gig! Now What? Crowd Control.” The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Band. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha, 2004. 136-37. Print.

Dealing with a Loud Audience. Perf. Robert Estrin. Dealing with a Loud Audience. Virtual Sheet Music, 23 Oct. 2013. Web. 21 Aug. 2014. .

Karan, Tim. “Ray LaMontagne Storms Offstage, Boots Couple From Show.” Diffuserfm. N.p., 24 July 2014. Web. 21 Aug. 2014. .

Parks, Andrew. “Jack White Ends Detroit Set Early, Pledges to Never Play Fox Theatre Again.” Wondering Sound. N.p., 29 July 2014. Web. 21 Aug. 2014. .