June 2, 2015

A critic’s guide to watching theater

By Erica R. Hendry

The Warner Grand Theater in Los Angeles.

The Warner Grand Theater in Los Angeles.

So you’ve never been to Broadway.

You’re not alone: Attendance for shows, especially among those younger than 35, has been hit or miss for years. But today, more Americans than ever are putting their money behind productions big and small; Broadway just concluded its highest-grossing season on record.

Getting to the theater is one feat. Sitting in front of a stage, rather than a concert  arena or movie theater, is another. New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley sat down with us ahead of our June 2 show on theater to offer some tips for those new to Broadway (and other regional stages).

  • Remember that the people on stage – unlike those on a screen – are very much alive and very aware of any noises you make. Their performance depends in part on the energy and the focus they receive from you. In other words: Don’t talk back to them and don’t talk among yourselves, not even in a whisper.
  • Turn off your cell phone – really. They have announcement before pretty much every show in New York now, requesting that you do just that. Yet invariably, at almost every performance, a cell phone goes off.
  • Every show sets out to seduce you, with its own special skills and on its own terms. Begin the evening as a virgin and let the performance work its magic.
  • Know that what you are watching is unique. It will never happen again in the way it is happening this night. That’s what makes live theater so precious. In other words, pay attention, because whatever you miss you’ll have missed forever.
  • If you don’t feel you understand what the playwright intended, or even what people on stage are saying, don’t shut off and don’t resist. Just relax and go with it, as if it were a full immersion class in a foreign language (which Shakespeare, for example, can sometimes seem like to newcomers). You’ll be surprised at how much you wind up understanding, after all.

For more on Broadway and the future, listen to our full show.