Pushy Parents to Loud Talkers: Broadway Stars Reveal Their 35 Biggest Audience Pet Peeves

6:30 AM 6/3/2016

by Ashley Lee

THR answers the prayers of stage’s brightest stars (that means you, phone-snatching Patti LuPone) as they share their biggest audience annoyances.

lea michele, hugh jackman, and harvey fierstein_Split - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

lea michele, hugh jackman, and harvey fierstein_Split - Getty - H 2016

Through smarter shows are debuting onstage, arguably dumber theatergoers are attending them.

This season, Keira Knightley got a marriage proposal from a devout stalker, Mark Strong paused A View From the Bridge when someone fainted at the sight of a shirtless actor, Hand to God was interrupted when a drunk theatergoer tried to use an onstage outlet, and Patti LuPone snatched a person's phone from their hands after watching the ticketholder text through Shows for Days. She told THR afterward that such bad behavior has her questioning her future in the theater: "I'm defeated by this. It's not changing, it's only getting worse, and it's not worth it anymore. I'm heartbroken. If something isn't done, I will think twice before I get back on a stage again."

Who's to blame? "The theater is a mutual experience in which everybody is there in one place and at one time, and it will never happen again — it's about being respectful of all the work that has gone into something," Judith Light tells THR. "I think the real truth of it is, a lot of people don't know what theater etiquette actually is. Maybe that's our responsibility, to put something together. I find that when you give people the information, they will abide by it."

Stage actors, your prayers have been answered. THR presents a beginner's guide to theater etiquette, according to its stars.

*off-Broadway show

  • Lea Michele

    "Don't show up drunk to the theater. Pre-show drinks are always fun, but not when you take it too far. People will end up talking too loud, talking to the stage, or falling asleep! And at the stage door, it's never nice to say you looked prettier on the stage."

  • Daveed Diggs

    "When there’s a kid in the line who is being really respectful, and a parent behind them is like, ‘Honey, get in there, get closer,’ and being aggressive about this kid getting a photo, where maybe this teenager just wanted to shake hands and say thank you. The great thing about the stage door is the personal interaction, not necessarily the photographs. The photo is gonna go up on Instagram, but getting to look at somebody and talk to them, that’s the fun part."

    Read more Off Script: Daveed Diggs Talks Thomas Jefferson, 'Hamilton' Dance Parties and Brunch in NYC

  • Jessie Mueller

    "People who sit in the front row put Playbills on the stage. I don’t understand that one. I was concerned because there’s a lot of things that happen near the lip of the stage. I literally pushed a cart over there and kicked it back into the audience. I hope I didn’t hit anyone in the face, but it just needed to be done."

  • Hugh Jackman

    "Loud talkers! Even a whisper is too loud when you’re in theater. In the bubble outside my head, I’m always thinking, 'Do you realize I can hear you?!'"

  • Danielle Brooks

    "One girl sat dead-center in the front row, in a bright purple shirt, and mouthed the entire show. That was distracting for me. I’m supposed to be singing it!"

    Read more Off Script: How Danielle Brooks Impresses Oprah and Inspires Women in 'The Color Purple'

  • Michael Cerveris

    "We see you, we hear you, and in some theaters we even smell you — or the doggie bag under your seat.”

  • Laura Benanti

    "I don't love when people who clearly didn't see the show bring a ton of photos to sign."

    Read more Off Script: Laura Benanti Keeps a Strict Regimen to Hit 'She Loves Me' High Notes and Punchlines

  • Harvey Fierstein

    "In my 44 years of trodding the boards, I have witnessed everything from people passing a whole roast chicken up and down a row, to someone trying to take down the script in dictation, to folks videotaping the show through cameras taped inside their hats, to guys getting blowjobs. People, please — this ain't the movies!"

  • Megan Hilty

    "During Noises Off, someone in the front row was eating a bag of potato chips that smelled so bad. We were all gagging, and we almost couldn’t hear each other speak. We didn’t have body mics, we had mics on the floor, which probably wasn’t helping, they were just picking up crunching and the rustling of the bag. It was all we could hear and all we could smell and all we could focus on. Insane."

    Read more Off Script: Megan Hilty Talks Having Nearly Nothing On for 'Noises Off'

  • Alex Brightman

    "Kids are usually mystified by the show; they’re never the problem. It’s mostly their parents who do the misbehaving, the adults who think they’re entitled enough to be the only person in the theater who has to have their phone on and look at text messages during the show. I’ve had more bad interactions with adults than I’ve ever had with kids."

    Read more Off Script: Alex Brightman Needs Pineapples and 'Family Guy' to Keep Up With 'School of Rock' Kids

  • Matthew Morrison

    "Moments used to be captured just by paying attention, by listening and being actively involved. I don't understand where we've become with people having to take a picture of every single moment in their lives. People know that you can't take pictures or video in a theater and yet every single show, it happens. I see almost every single picture being taken of me from the stage and it is beyond distracting. And I can't even imagine how distracting it is for the people sitting behind the person taking the picture!"

  • Kelli O'Hara

    "When you ask me to take a picture with you at the stage door with your iPhone, I notice that you push the button 753 times. Can we just take one picture?"

  • Zachary Levi

    "Particularly at comedies, sometimes people don’t want to be too loud. Let go, laugh your ass off! It’s the only way we know you’re actually enjoying yourself. Some people get very reserved — yet they talk and don’t turn off their cellphones.”

    Read more Off Script: How Zachary Levi Stays Good-Hearted for Broadway's 'She Loves Me'

  • Renee Elise Goldsberry

    "People at the stage door get there before the show is over, and there are these huge sing-alongs, sometimes they’re so loud that during ‘It’s Quiet Uptown,’ when we’re supposed to be quiet onstage, you can hear the crowd outside singing ‘My Shot.’ It’s turned into a bit of a party. We hear it onstage but I don’t think they hear it in the audience. It’s such a large group of young people that are so impassioned – they haven’t seen the show, they just want to be together and singing in the proximity. It’s worth it. Any opportunity to be able to celebrate.

    "And sometimes, people get up at the end of ‘Yorktown’ because they assume it’s the end of the first act. When are they going to realize that they’re going to miss King George’s second song?"

    Read more Off Script: How 'Hamilton' Star Renee Elise Goldsberry Absolved Steven Spielberg's 10-Year Guilt

  • Bernadette Peters

    "Reading the program during the show. When you come to the theater, you should be getting the story from the show. If you’re not, then we’ve failed."

  • Mark Strong

    "You get some lovely older gentleman or lady who wants to have a sweetie — a candy — while they're watching, and they think they're helping by opening it slowly and quietly. You're thinking, 'Just open it, just go for it, come on! Quick!' But it goes on and on forever because they think they're being polite."

  • Patina Miller

    "I've had experiences at the stage door with fans grabbing the actors while signing autographs. That’s a big no-no in my book."

  • Jonathan Groff

    "Sleeping during the show. But I never saw it happen in Hamilton."

  • Linda Lavin

    "When audience members say things like, 'What did she say?' to each other real loud. There are times when I want to repeat the line for them!"

  • Michael Shannon

    "People have been starting to take pictures during the show, sometimes with the flash on. It's really been bothering Jessica [Lange]. Don't do that!"

    Read more Off Script: Michael Shannon Curates a Boozy Playlist for His 'Long Day's Journey Into Night' Role

  • Nathan Lane

    "As far as I'm concerned, there is no food or drink that is OK during a show. If you cannot live without food or drink or your cell phone for two to three hours, then you should stay at home and watch The Bachelorette or seek psychiatric care."

  • James Monroe Iglehart

    "Someone brought an iPad and turned it around, thinking that if the screen was facing me while they were recording or Facetiming, nobody would see them. But I could see myself dancing! They forget that I play the Genie so I can call them out, which I have."

  • Billy Porter

    "The theater is about a relationship, it’s a give and take. I look for a smile, a laugh, anything. If they’re actively sitting there with no expression, I stare them down. Back in Kinky Boots, I could address them directly. I’m a man in a dress and I’m standing up here working real hard, so the least you could do is smile at me, you know what I mean?!"

  • Lea DeLaria

    "When truly old people fall asleep in the front row. I walked out onstage once when I was in Little Fish with Jesse Tyler Ferguson and a whole group of us to do our opening number. I kid you not, there was a guy literally bent over at the waist, asleep. We mouthed to each other, 'Is he dead?' Wednesday matinees — that's bedtime for them. They just went to Denny's and had their dinner, they see the show and it's off to bed."

  • Gabriel Byrne

    “I did an O’Neill play a few years ago, and there was a kid wearing his earbuds in the front row, jazzing along to whoever. And kids making out in the second row. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced that one.”

  • Andrea Martin

    "After [a performance of] Fiddler on the Roof, someone came up to me and asked if I was ever going to be funny again."

    Read more Off Script: Andrea Martin Says "I Honestly Do Not Know How I Survived" Broadway's 'Noises Off'

  • Mike Birbiglia

    "It’s not just their phone ringing that’s a problem; it’s the glow of the f—ing phone. I see it twice a week. If they text during the show, it’s messing up people’s experience of the darkness around them, and that’s part of the theater experience. The whole thing is that we’re all present in the room at the same time, and if people do that, it’s no good."

  • Kyle Dean Massey

    "Wearing reflective gym clothing to the theater. I don’t care that they’re wearing gym clothes, but some of them are glaring like a traffic sign. They’re actually glowing out there and it’s so distracting. My eye just always go to them – why?"

  • Lisa Lampanelli

    "If your kid is drinking out of a sippy cup, and you're drinking out of a sippy cup of wine to deal with your kid, you probably should have left that rotten kid at home."

  • Susan Sarandon

    "People who talk — they're used to talking like they're watching television, and it makes it difficult for you to hear. I'm all for audience participation, but that's too much."

  • Michael Urie

    "If someone uses a hearing aide, and forgets to turn it down while using the theater-provided assisted listening devices, it will emit a very annoying high-pitched whistle. A sound unheard by the culprit because, well, they don't hear so good. This is a nightmare, and rather than waiting for a house manager or usher to run down and find the poor person and disrupt the entire section, nearby audience members should feel free (and in fact be encouraged by the management) to gently alert them that they're disrupting the entire room and to kindly, quickly and quietly fix the problem."

  • Michael C. Hall

    “Sometimes you worry about the coughing, that it sounds like it’s costing them too much to keep from it, and maybe they should just excuse themselves and let loose in the lobby. But if you bring individually wrapped cough drops, unwrap them before the show starts.”

  • Carol Kane

    "Since they’ve allowed these drinks in the theater, these ice cubes are just going back and forth. It’s so distracting. All you hear are ice cubes."

  • Steven Pasquale

    "Snoring. If they’re just sleeping, they paid their money like everybody else — at least they’re being quiet."

  • Tony Danza

    "My audience pet peeve? When they don’t come."