Inside the Theater

The ‘Theater’ is from a Greek word that means “the seeing place” and is a gathering place where at fixed times a presentation is offered.  Over history that began with speeches and plays that brought forth our natural abilities and interest as storytellers.  The addition of developing artforms added music, dance and other forms of spectacle, including opera, musical theater and variety shows to the theater experience.  In the past 100 years, a new artform, the motion picture, was added to the repertoire of the ancient venue concept.

When we talk about the theater today, we are generally referring to live theater, a presentation in which the performers are on stage in-person and, in each show, deliver their performances to an audience. There is a certain excitement and energy that a live theater performance has that a movie doesn’t necessarily and, while there are no fixed set of reasons for this, the unpredictability (each performer having to do it exactly right), and the closeness of the audience to the actual performers are just some of the factors affecting this atmosphere.

Since there are live performers on stage, there is a stricter set of rules that audiences should abide by, as a matter of courtesy and safety. Here is what you can expect in a performance by Indianapolis City Ballet:

Tickets – Theater events such as the ballet are announced weeks or months in advance and, unlike movies, usually have a set term of performances (for example a date for a first performance and one for the last performance). Tickets too are available weeks or months before but, if there are any left, they can still be purchased right up to show time (also called “curtain time”). Seats are usually reserved with patrons buying a specific seat or seats for a performance.

Will Call – The words “Will Call” is a theater term for a window or booth at a theater where people who have already ordered tickets can pick them up.

Seating – With reserved or assigned seating, it is always best to arrive early. Ushers are posted at theater entrances to assist theater goers to quickly find their seats.

Printed Programs – Ushers also typically hand out programs, sometimes called “Playbills”. These programs let theater goers learn more about the program before, during and after the performance – they are yours to take home. Included may be a synopsis or summary of the performance or story, names and short biographies of the performers and other information.

Attire – While there is no dress code for theater attendance, it is customary for most people to dress festively since it adds to the atmosphere and respects the artists.

Intermission – An intermission or break during a performance is a normal happening but may not occur in all performances. The printed program usually indicates if, when and how long an intermission will be. It is an opportunity to stretch your legs, go to the bathroom or read the program. Backstage, it can serve as a break for the performers or as a harried time of changing sets and costumes. Theater’s try to corral audience members as the intermission is ending by turning lights rapidly on and off, ringing bells or gongs, making announcement so it is always a good idea to be aware.

Arriving late – Different theaters and different performers have different policies about seating late-comers. Out of respect for the audience members and the performers, ushers often hold patrons in the lobby or standing at the back of the theater, sometimes seating them during pauses in the program. It is always best to arrange to arrive early.

Food and drink – Food and drink are not typically permitted in a live-performance theater – the noise and commotion can be distracting to both your fellow audience members and to the artists on stage.

Talking – A good rule is when the curtain is down and lights are up (on), polite conversation is acceptable but once the lights dim, it is a signal for courtesy. Whispering during breaks in the program when the curtain is down is OK too but not loud enough for someone two seats away to hear.

Clapping – Clapping, along with laughing, when it is a natural reaction to what you are seeing on stage, is expected and welcomed by the performers who thrive on audience reaction. The energy of a crowded theater with an audience engaged in the performance is a wonderful experience and more audience reaction often draws more daring and energetic performances.