Know Before You Go

Dramatic Do's and Don'ts

A field guide to plays and musical theater

Before the Show

Before the curtain rises, here's what you need to know...

  • Wish Them Well. Did you hear anyone say, “Break a leg!” to an actor? Though it doesn’t sound nice, it is. To an actor, “break a leg” means “good  luck.”

  • Peer into the Pit. If the show has live music, it probably has a pit—that hole below the stage where the musicians sit. Before the show starts, go take a peek at it.

  • Musicals: Know the Score. Many people read plays before seeing them performed. To prepare for a musical, though, it’s more common to listen to the show’s soundtrack. The songs will give you a sense of the plot and mood of the performance. Plus, you’ll be able to sing along during the show (in your head, never out loud)!

During the Show

Once the lights dim and the show is underway, remember to...

  • Listen Right Away. At the start of a musical, the lights will dim, and you might hear live music before you see anything happening on stage. What you’re hearing is the overture, which includes little bits of all the songs you’ll hear in the show. Be sure to listen quietly—the overture is part of the show. 

  • Don’t talk back. If characters in a play talk directly to the audience, they’re “breaking the fourth wall.” 

  • If You’re Happy and You Know It. Theater audiences generally clap at the end of acts. An exception: In musicals, you can clap at the end of any song or dance number—or occasionally in the middle of one if a performer does something really complicated. A “showstopper” is when a performer sings or does something so well that it literally stops the show with audience applause.

  • Time Out. Sometimes during a musical performance there is an “11 o’clock moment.” No, that doesn’t mean everyone has to leave. It’s when something really big happens—like a song or an event or special spectacle. Usually the audience recognizes this moment with loud applause.



Marina Ruben
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

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