Curtain Call: Common sense of theatre etiquette must never be one-show wonder
We came up with a campaign in Marathi – “A reminder of how to watch plays”. It was a sarcastic take on how the audience might have forgotten theatre etiquette because of the long break. We shared it and saw it getting shared till it reached us again on social media. We laughed about it and felt nice that it resonated with people
Now that theatres have re-opened, no one could be happier than us. Yes, there will be challenges ahead and I have written about it at length. But, it is a time to celebrate! And what bigger celebration can there be than performing for a ‘live’ audience?
At ‘Natak Company’, our theatre group, our social media manager – Mugdha Hasamnis – came up with a campaign in Marathi – “A reminder of how to watch plays”. It was a sarcastic take on how the audience might have forgotten theatre etiquette because of the long break. We shared it and saw it getting shared till it reached us again on social media. We laughed about it and felt nice that it resonated with people.
It got me thinking. This wasn’t the first time we had made an appeal like that. God knows I have written about theatre etiquette more than once. And there is an announcement before every show! Every show! A humble appeal to ask our patrons to turn off their cell phones. In case they are supposed to receive an urgent call, they can most certainly receive it outside the auditorium in the “cry room”. The cry room is also available for a reason – for crying babies. We understand that couples may need to come and watch a play and they may not have a space to keep their small children. Once the children get cranky, which is again understandable since they are in a huge dark room with a few people on a wooden block talking loudly a few feet away and many other people around them laughing or clapping (or snoring!).
I don’t even know why these things should be termed as “etiquettes”. The word does carry a certain weight to it. Like some action that needs some extra effort. In fact, I prefer the term “common sense!”. I remember sitting in the audience for a play that I had directed. There was a couple with two small children, nearly seven-eight years old. I admit that not many people had come to watch the play that day. So the kids had ample space to run around. And they did. And they were talking amongst themselves while doing that.
Since I had directed the play, I knew each and every moment of it, but was still finding it hard to concentrate while watching it. My respect for my actors increased multiple times where they continued performing in this commotion. I went to the parents of the kids and politely asked them to keep them quiet. Even they were kind enough to take action, but while doing it, the father told me that it was the first time they he and his family had come to watch a play and weren’t aware of the rules. I didn’t understand why should there be a specific rule for this. Isn’t it understood, that there are actual people performing and there are others in the theatre watching; a paying audience, much like themselves.
Does that mean that they will be fine if someone else creates a commotion when they have gone to watch something? I didn’t take the matter further because that would have disturbed my actors even more.
I remembered something that a friend of mine told me about a Korean play he had watched at an international theatre festival in Japan. They had politely mentioned upfront that if a phone rings during the performance, they will stop it. Just a few seconds into the performance, someone’s phone rang and they stopped performing and exited the stage. Let me clarify, I am not in favour of such hard measures. Why should a majority of audience members bear the brunt for the insensitivity of a few? Though I understand why the Korean group must have had such a strict policy. It is plain disrespectful.
I remember, when I was in college we used to have one day of rehearsal where our friends would create a disturbance while we were performing. It was to test our concentration in case our competitors decide to hoot-out a play.
The situation isn’t that bad generally, but whenever I direct a play, we have a session with the actors where we discuss what to do in case there is a disturbance which cannot be ignored. I usually prefer that the actors stop performing till the disturbance is over and stay still. Once it has passed, they can resume from their last dialogue. The least an audience member can do is to not disturb the world created by the theatre group. Is that etiquette?