WWBD: What would Bach do?

Ever wondered if you’re “that guy” in a concert or theater performance? The person that doesn’t exactly know what to wear, when to leave or needs a general lesson in audience etiquette? We’ve all noticed those people. A few simple rules for audience etiquette follow. Hopefully next time you won’t feel out of place at a Mercer Music performance.

The first things to consider are decisions that should be made well before the performance begins, the main one being appropriate dress. This can change frequently from performance to performance depending on the venue and artist. If you’re attending a concert downtown, you more likely will not dress like you would for the opera. However, if you are going to be attending the opera or a theater performance you should dress more formally than if you were going downtown, for example to the Hummingbird. More formal programs can differ in dress as well, for instance attending a Mercer Opera performance you’d be safe in your “Sunday best” or business casual. However, if you plan on attending a professional Atlanta opera production you’ll want to be closer to semi-formal attire. The best advice is that, when in doubt, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed.

Another recital rule of thumb is to arrive on time. However, in the world of theater performances 15 minutes early, on average, is considered “on time.” If you’re arriving right on time, you’re late. This rule will help determine when you’ll need to leave your house. It’s always a good idea to plan to arrive at least 10 minutes early to allow for any traffic or unwarranted delays you may experience. As an audience member you should always plan to be seated in time for the performance to begin.

Appropriate times to clap and leave the performance are commonly the same. Recitals and classical performance pieces are often grouped into sections; these are what are commonly seen in programs held in Fickling Hall by the Townsend School of Music. Audience members are expected to clap at the end of each section of pieces, though not necessarily after each piece, because it can cause the concert to last a little longer than intended. If you need to leave the concert or recital for any reason, it is best if you leave while the audience is clapping as not to draw attention to yourself. During the performance it is polite to remain seated unless absolutely necessary. You should never leave while a piece is being performed as it is rude to those watching, as well as the performer. In theater performances the best time to leave, as well as clap, is intermission. However, if you have to leave before intermission for any reason you should try to make it during a set or scene change so you do not break the concentration of the audience or actors.

These are a few simple rules that should be followed to ensure the audience and performers enjoy the performance. Cell phones should not be brought into venues such as concert halls and theaters, however more casual concert venues are exceptions to this rule. Food or drink is allowed at the venue’s discretion, but be aware of your fellow audience members. It’s not polite to leave during the middle of a performance and should be avoided if at all possible. Dress for the specific occasion. Most decisions can be made on a performance to performance basis. As an audience member, always try your best to be polite to those around you as well the artists onstage.