Theatre etiquette: Mousetrap Projects: We ask each student to sign a theatre behaviour contract

As part of our series on theatre etiquette, Susan Whiddington, director of Moustrap Theatre Projects, explains what the organisation does to try to ensure their audiences know what to expect in the theatre

A school theatre vist with the Mousetrap Theatre Projects
A school theatre vist with the Mousetrap Theatre Projects

For the past 18 years the theatre education charity, Mousetrap Theatre Projects, has provided opportunities for disadvantaged young people to attend outstanding theatre productions across London with all tickets £5 – £10. Last year we took more than 16,500 young people to the theatre, identified by state secondary schools, families and youth groups, through 18 access, education and audience development programmes.

The issue of theatre etiquette is hugely important to us as very often we are targeting first time theatregoers who may not know what is expected of them in the theatre. We also are conscious that our young people are attending public performances with patrons who have paid significantly more for their tickets and expect to have an enjoyable experience that is not ruined by poor behaviour of school groups. We see our role as nurturing future theatregoers and we take this very seriously.

To this end several years ago, we instituted a strict policy of ensuring that teachers advise their students of acceptable behaviour in the theatre. We send a behaviour contract that each student is asked to sign which covers: turning off their mobile phones and electronic devices; remaining silent and giving their full attention to the performance; not eating in the theatre; following instructions given by their teachers and theatre staff; and responding to the actors and stage action in a mature and respectful manner both during the performance and at the post-show talk.

Susan Whiddington, director of Mousetrap Theatre Projects
Susan Whiddington, director of Mousetrap Theatre Projects

We ask teachers to sign a contract that they have distributed the student etiquette contract to their students. We also expect them to discuss with their students that this is a public performance and that actors can hear audience members talking, using their phones, etc. and that these disruptions can affect their performance. We require a minimum of 1 teacher or chaperone to 10 students and importantly we insist that the teachers or chaperones sit among the students and not all together at the end of the row!

This policy works well. It’s rare when we do have a behaviour problem with students. Last year we sent well over 8,000 students to see productions with only a very few incidents. When there is an incident, we take it up immediately with the teacher and we expect the
misbehaving students to be reprimanded and they are asked to write a letter of apology to the theatre manager.

On a lighter note, we have a very active Youth Forum – a group of young people aged 15 – 23 who take a strong leadership role in our charity. They advise us on productions to see, how to market to young people and how to involve young people more affectively in our programmes. The Youth Forum also creates and runs its own projects. Two years ago the members decided to create their own video on ‘theatre etiquette’ which has a very humorous slant. This 3-minute video is on our website and we send it to teachers and others as another way to reinforce the importance of appropriate behaviour in the theatre. Here it is:

Susan Whiddington is director of Mousetrap Theatre Projects

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