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Survey reveals audiences think theatres aren't doing enough to police bad behaviour

A survey of over 3,300 WhatsOnStage readers reveals that people believe venues should be monitoring the audiences more closely

Two per cent said they thought it was OK to use their phone during a performance
© Mark McQuade/Flickr

The results of a survey on theatre etiquette conducted by WhatsOnStage reveal that audiences are unhappy with the way theatres police bad behaviour.

Over 3,300 WhatsOnStage readers responded to the survey which went out at the end of October, with 59 per cent of respondents believing that theatre owners and venues weren't doing enough to 'police' audience behaviour.

Out of a list of things they thought theatre owners could do, 65 per cent said they thought the audience should be monitored more closely during the show. Sixty four per cent said theatres should stop selling noisy snacks, while 74 per cent said theatres should refuse to serve patrons alcohol if they appear to have had too much drink.

The survey, which was one of the biggest undertaken on the subject, covered a range of questions and also revealed how 46.5 per cent of people believed audiences had seen a definite decline in audience behaviour in recent years, compared to 39 per cent who said they had seen a slight decline. Conversely, 72 per cent of people said that audience behaviour in today's theatres was generally well-behaved, as opposed to 0.1 per cent who said audiences were impeccably well behaved.

Twenty one per cent of respondents said they had sung along to a show, and only three per cent said they had used their mobile phone during a performance. Forty two per cent said they had reprimanded people for using their phone during the performance. Six per cent said they had taken photographs and filmed a theatre performance. Twenty six per cent of respondents admitted they had fallen asleep during a performance and 13 per cent said they had taken their shoes and socks off.

When asked to give their opinion on why audience behaviour had declined, the rise of the jukebox musical repeatedly came up as a reason, as well as high ticket prices which were blamed for driving out 'true theatre lovers'. Many people provided examples of bad audience behaviour, which ranged from someone urinating in the aisles, to someone playing computer games during a show, to someone being sick into her handbag and shutting it until the interval.

In response to the results, WhatsOnStage Chief Operating Officer Sita McIntosh said: "Theatre etiquette is an important subject that our readers clearly feel very strongly about. The survey shows that WhatsOnStage theatre-goers believe that the way we are behaving in auditoriums is changing for the worse. We realise there is no easy solution, especially with our ever increasing reliance on smart phones and social media. The purpose of the survey was to provoke debate and gather opinion, which I think it certainly will."

A Society of London Theatre spokesperson said in response to the findings: "Society of London Theatre believes that those attending a live performance should be considerate to their fellow audience members and performers. Theatregoers should be able to enjoy their performances without interruption and the use of mobiles and talking will cause unnecessary distractions."

Out of 3,016 respondents who were willing to state their gender 1,061 were male, 1,955 were female. Most were aged between 18-24 (19 per cent), 18 per cent were 25-34 and 17 per cent were 45-54. Fifty seven per cent of WhatsOnStage audience members attend the theatre at least once a month.

WhatsOnStage will be featuring a series of interviews and blogs with people involved in the theatre industry about their opinions on the survey and theatre etiquette. Keep up to date with the conversation by following @whatsonstage and #theatreetiquette and visiting this link.