theatre etiquette with kids

Theatre etiquette for families

I love going to the theatre, and try and go a few times a year. Assuming we’ve chosen the right show, N also enjoys a day out that includes a good show. I think it’s important that children of all ages are exposed to the theatre, but we also need to think about theatre etiquette so noone has their visit ruined by other people.

I’m thinking of theatre etiquette in terms of taking children of different ages to see a show. When I’m talking theatre, for a child I’m talking musicals. 

Unless you can get a good ticket deal, you may be paying quite a lot to go. So you want to make sure everyone in the party will enjoy it.  But every family is different, every child is different and will enjoy the theatre at what age is right for them. 

theatre etiquette with kids

I’d love to take N to more performances, but it’s quite hard to find the right show that he’ll not moan about. I don’t want to waste his or my time, but introduce him to shows that will inspire him and I know he’ll enjoy. So it may be a while. In the meantime I’ll continue to go and see shows with friends or alone.

Being distracted by others when you’re watching a show though, is really frustrating. Yes, theatres should be for everyone, and not everyone is used to going to the theatre. Maybe they’ve not been taught how to act when they’re in a theatre. But if you’re not sure, just remember it’s live theatre. It’s a not a cinema.

So here’s my take on theatre etiquette. Some points also come from fellow theatre lovers.

Of course, these rules aren’t set in stone. But ultimately if you think in advance what would annoy you if people sitting next to you did certain things, it will give you an idea of what is or isn’t acceptable at the theatre.

Tips on theatre etiquette

1. Pick the length of show that’s suitable for your child’s age.

If they won’t sit through a film at home, they’re probably not ready for a show in the theatre that long. Start them off with short shows that are aimed at children of their age. With characters they know. At these performances, it’s expected that children will be restless and get more involved rather than sitting still for 2 ½ hours.

2. Choose a show that’s age appropriate

Always check the recommended age for shows that aren’t obviously for children. Even some shows like Frozen will say age 4 or 5+. Some theatres will be very strict about the minimum age, others will be more of a recommendation. But the recommendation is there for a reason. 

For older children, ask around if you’re not sure whether a show will be appropriate for your child if you’ve not seen the show before. Adult themes may go over their head and they’ll just enjoy the music. But you might not think they’re ready, or might want to avoid bad language for middle school age kids.

3. Ask for booster seats

Some theatres that don’t have as steep a rake (slope) or are expecting young children, may provide booster seats. But please don’t use them to sit on as an adult. It means noone behind you will be able to see, so think about who’s sitting behind and whether there’s offset seating so people can see through the gaps.

4. Pick your seat by checking views on Seatplan

Boxes are great and look like they’ll be really special, but often you have to sit forward to be able to see enough of the stage.  But in smaller theatres, there’s a great view from any area. Seatplan lets you see views from different seats in most theatres. 

5. Arrive in plenty of time

At the moment theatres are recommending arrival about an hour ahead of the performance start. That’s a long time to wait (especially when theatres can be hot) for children. Find a corner to sit in, take some snacks for them to eat before they go in (but not too much drink otherwise they’ll want the toilet as soon as the show starts). 

If you’re in the middle of a row, don’t be the late person who waits until the last minute to push past everyone else sitting already.

6. Think about the people behind you

If you’re really tall and with someone shorter, why not work out the seats so the tall person isn’t infront of the shortest of the 2 sitting behind.

7. Don’t take noisy snacks

Ideally only get the snacks out before the show starts, and in the interval. The theatre isn’t like the cinema where it’s more acceptable to sit and eat all the way through the film.  If you need to snack, take non smelly snacks – no popcorn, it smells more than you think. Decant food from crinkly bags into non noisy bags or tubs. And give each person their own rather than having to pass food down the row to avoid annoying those sitting behind or in front.

8. Don’t sing a long

(Unless it’s sold as a sing a long show). 

It must be really annoying for the performers on stage. But theatre goers have bought tickets to watch and listen to the actors and performers. They don’t want to hear the show in stereo thanks to the person sitting next to them (however good your voice is).  Yes, it’s really hard not to sing a long to your favourite songs, but try for the sake of everyone else around you and the performers. A musical is not a pop concert.

9. Teach children to behave appropriately

Age appropriate shows will help. Most children will learn how to behave if they start with shorter performances, and work up to 2 ½ hour West End shows. Don’t assume your child at the age of 4 will be able to sit through the whole of The Lion King just because they’ll watch the animated movie at home. Some young children will but the majority probably won’t be able to. 

If you really want to see a show, then get a babysitter and go without the kids or wait until they’re old enough to appreciate the show and understand it.

At the minimum opt for a matinee rather than evening show. Because everyone expects an afternoon show to have children in the audience (assuming it’s age appropriate).  

Alternatively look out for relaxed performances which many theatres now do – these aim to make performances more comfortable for those with sensory needs with gentler lighting, and acceptable for those who may struggle to sit in one place through a whole performance.

people watching at the theatre with curtain down

10. Turn your mobile off / put it away

All electronics. Including any you might think you’ll let your bored child play with. It’s distracting and rude. And shows are not meant to be filmed (unless they specifically say you can, some say this near the end).

11. Don’t commentate or chat

See singing along for the reasons.

If you need to explain the plot to your children, then either it’s not going to be appropriate for their age, or explain it before the show.

12. Help your children get into the show before going

Children can get so much out of going to the theatre, so why not help them get into the show before they go to see it. Get the musical soundtrack or watch trailers or previous performance snippets online. If there’s a film of it, then watch the film with them. It won’t ruin the excitement of going to the theatre but it will help them follow the story.

13. Be prepared to leave if children are crying or playing up

You won’t enjoy it if your children aren’t happy in there. Taking them out means everyone around you will be relieved, and will probably help your child too.

My top tip is just to think about others when you’re planning your theatre trip. And to enjoy it.

What theatre etiquette trips would you suggest?

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