This originally appeared, edited, in UK Theate Magazine (February 2016) as an anonymous Soap Box article.
As an audience member I am by no means perfect. I scrap every last bit of my interval ice cream, I push you out if the way if the theatre has unallocated seating and I like ice in my G&T but like public transport theatre is a shared experience you just don’t want to share with certain people.
I was inspired by the recent news report of a man who stormed out of Sunny Afternoon after being told to quieten down by ushers when audience members complained that his singing along was spoiling the show for those who had paid money to see professional actors. When talking to newspaper to the man said “I have paid a lot of money…” To which I switched off and sighed.
I have been a regular audience member for 5 years I got sucked in by the National Theatre’s £5 Entry Pass scheme then I stopped being under 25 and it was too late. I was hooked, an addiction to good story telling and an obsession with Alex Jennings meant I was here to stay. It also meant I had to pay full price now!
Full price for me involves an obscene amount of planning and memberships/email lists. I try to spend an average of £15-20 over the year. I have a spreadsheet for the very purpose. I don’t have high expectations; a semi decent view is all I ask for.
I understand the casual patron doesn’t have a spreadsheet, so it may mean spending £50 upwards for a decent view or even guaranteed chance to see their favourite actor in the flesh. I became concerned when the Elephant Man with Bradley Cooper came to town with Broadway style premium pricing of £90 seats. Musicals such as The Book of Mormon were asking for £100+. I understand these show costs money to run but does not mean audience members who have paid premium prices the right to treat the theatre as their living room.
People taking their shoes off, people bringing newborn babies, people getting into fights with fellow audience members, the inability of people to put their phone on silent, the lack of cough sweets sold in theatres during winter, ice rattling noisily in cups (Sorry!). I could easily go on. I am aware some of these are minor irritations but expectations of a perfect theatre experience, for both the annoyed and the annoying increase per pound spent.
I am sure this has been happening for years but anecdotally it feels like a rise in bad behaviour can be linked to a rise in ticket prices. If people can’t have respect for their peers in the audience then please consider the actors and performers. There are encores in musicals where you sing along, they can hear you asking your friend/partner what is going, they know it is your phone with the horrible ring tone and they can see you sleeping.
A rise in the theatre prices doesn’t just out price the curious and minorities who on the whole don’t attend productions but it seems to, for a minority, lead to rise in disrespect.