Etiquette for a Broadway Show

Some mannerly words to the wise

Times Square at night

 Fresh Photos/Getty Images


  • Opening Night
    If you are lucky enough to acquire a coveted invitation to a Broadway show’s opening night performance, this red carpet event will leave you dizzy among a dazzling spectacle of stars and paparazzi. Formal wear reigns on opening night, so deck yourself out in a designer tuxedo or gown, resplendent with sparkly diamonds, to evoke the glamour of yesteryear. Your attire must be the epitome of taste and class, although a touch of theatrical whimsy is allowed.
  • During the Run 
    Dress up for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening performances, wearing any style in the range from cocktails to formal wear. Nicer business and cocktail attire will suffice for weeknight performances, while matinees are usually much more casual.
  • Jeans or No Jeans? 
    Wearing jeans has its champions and naysayers when broaching appropriate theater attire. While the anti-jeans group believes denim shows a lack of respect for the theater, the pro-jeans camp maintains that paying $150 for a ticket allows you to dress any way you want. The truth is, during hot summer months, jeans and shorts are seen as often as slacks for weeknight and matinee performances.
  • Scent of a Woman … or Man 
    Scented body products are not necessary to life, but if you do use them, a little dab will do ya. You will be sitting in a crowded theater for a few hours, and the person next to you may be allergic to your eau de toilette’s volatile oils. From shampoo to deodorant, perfume to aftershave, use unscented bodycare products.

Before the Show

  • Pre-Theater Dinner
    As with movie theaters, bringing outside food into the theater is not allowed, nor is it particularly wise. The theater’s concessions will be open but eat a full dinner beforehand. Enjoying a pre-show dinner is part of the Broadway tradition and is offered in many hotel/show packages.
  • Arrival
    Give your commute to the theater twice as long as normal to accommodate heavy traffic, a long line at the box office, and other delays. Arrive at least 30 minutes prior to show time if not sooner. An early arrival ensures plenty of time to enjoy the theater’s décor, peruse available show souvenirs, and read your Playbill.
  • In the Theater
    Allow an usher to tell you where your seats are. Even if you scouted your seats online beforehand, the usher can tell you the best way to get to your seats or if there is anything you need to know about access to that section.
  • Bathroom Break 
    Theaters typically open a half hour before show time. Take this opportunity to go to the bathroom. Even if you don’t really need to, try anyway. After all, you just ate dinner, and standing in the mile-long bathroom line during Intermission is no time to wish you had gone earlier.

    During the Show

    • Cell Phones 
      Turn your cell phone off, and leave it off. Completely and totally off. Not on vibrate, which is actually a lot more audible than you think. Off off. Texting and filming during the show are absolute no-nos. Though texting to your Facebook or Twitter page during intermission is allowed, be sure to turn your phone off again.
    • Intermission 
      Intermission is the 15 to 20 minute break between acts. Modern plays and musicals usually have one intermission, between Acts 1 and 2, whereas opera can have two intermissions, separating acts 2 and 3, or 3 and 4, and so on. A growing number of plays and musicals have opted for no intermission, but the house staff will usually inform you of this fact as you're getting seated. 
    • Alcohol 
      During Intermission, the lobby concessions bar offers drinks and snacks (for a considerable fee), including alcoholic beverages. But know your limits — even a “happy drunk” will make enemies if he or she disrupts a Broadway show.
    • Applause 
      In opera and other classical performances such as the symphony or Shakespeare, it is customary to hold applause until an entire scene or work is completed. Broadway theater performers love a good ovation any time, especially after songs in a musical.
    • Standing Ovation 
      If you feel the show earned a standing ovation, then get up on your feet and clap till your hands are red and stinging. Truly excellent productions garner screaming standing ovations every night, so feel free to join in. But feel free to remain seated if the show wasn't exactly to your liking. However, leaving up the aisles during the curtain call is considered rude. 

    After the Show

    • Flowers Certain special occasions such as opening night or closing night may end with the audience throwing flowers to the stage during curtain call. For the most part, this is discouraged. Otherwise, keep your flowers and hand them to the actors personally at the stage door. Just make sure the actor is not allergic to flowers.
    • Talk-backs 
      Occasionally, a “talk-back” is scheduled after a performance. This special event allows you to connect with the actors and learn about the process of bringing the characters to life on stage. Talk-backs are announced on the show’s Web site and via social networking sites.
    • Autographs Crowding the stage door to get autographs is as popular as ever, particularly when Hollywood and television stars are the marquee draw. But be warned: actors can spend half an hour or longer to change out of costume and make-up, and some actors do not stay for autographs at all.