Know Before You Go

A Field Guide to Theaters

Everything you need to know before you go to an arts event in a theater

Before the Show

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

  • Dress up. No need for a tuxedo, but do try to look nice.

  • Bring warmth. Even if it’s toasty outside, bring a sweater or jacket. Theaters are usually cold. It’ll be hard to concentrate on the performance if you’re shivering.

  • Bring your tickets. For obvious reasons.

  • Bring money. If you want to buy a souvenir.

  • Go. To see the lobby. To use the bathroom. To see the view from another part of the theater. Do it now, before the show starts.

  • Turn off your cell phone. And anything else electronic that could cause a ruckus.

  • Find the “EXIT” signs. Look for the illuminated signs over the doors. You always want to know where the nearest emergency exit is in a theater in case of a natural disaster, a medical situation, or a fire. 

  • Read your program. This tells you what show you’re about to see, who created it, and who’s performing in it. You might like to read a synopsis (summary) of the show before it begins; other people prefer to be surprised by the action onstage.

  • Don’t munch. At most theaters, no food, gum, or beverages are allowed inside the theater itself. If you think you might need a breath mint or cough drop during a play, unwrap it quietly or, better yet, before the performance. 

  • Thank ushers. These are the people who give you programs, show you to your seat, and answer questions. Sometimes they use flashlights to shine the way if you arrive late or need to leave to use the bathroom. Let them help you back to your seat so that you don’t trip.

During the Show

It's show time! Now what do you do?

  • No pictures, please. Don’t take photos unless you have been told that it’s okay to do so.

  • Rest in peace. Shhhh. It’s fine to laugh or cry, but save any chit-chat for later. The actors need silence so that they can focus on their roles, and the rest of the audience needs silence to concentrate on the show.

  • Respect the chairs. Don’t put your feet on them, kick them, or make them feel bad about themselves.

  • Clap on; clap off. But only at the right times: You should clap after a play, song, scene, or act, or right before intermission. If you love a show, stand up while applauding (but only at the very end of the show). That’s called a “standing ovation.”

  • Intermission: There’s a break about halfway through most theater productions. Some shows have two intermissions. This is a great time to use the bathroom (though the women’s room often has a long line), get a drink of water, blow your nose, stretch your legs, or eavesdrop as people sitting nearby make clever comments about the play.

  • Power outage? If it’s before the show or the end of intermission, you might see the lights go on and off several times or hear the sound of chimes. These signals mean audience members should sit down—it’s almost time for the show to start (or restart).



Marina Ruben
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

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