Homeschool Pool recently had an opportunity to attend two performances of the Houston Symphony in one week. One was an educational outreach program designed for grades 4 and up, the other a private bassoon duet. Both performances were phenomenal. Both performances were also, unfortunately, marred slightly by the behavior of a few children. When homeschool children act exceptionally it motivates organizations to cater to the homeschool community. This only expands our educational opportunities. But it does not take much of a negative image to perpetuate homeschool myths that do not work in our favor.
At Homeschool Pool, proper manners are strictly enforced from a very young age. We attend many events that require a certain amount of decorum and we discuss the expectations beforehand, every time. We also discuss the consequences for misbehavior and adhere to those – or, we would if we ever had an issue with them. We would like to encourage other parents to discuss “theater manners” before attending any type of theatrical or musical performance. If everyone does this, more kids will behave appropriately and everyone will enjoy the experience.
When do theater manners apply?
There are many venues where theater manners apply. There may be slight variations depending on the type of performance but the basics remain the same:
- Orchestral performances
- Concert band or wind symphony
- Ballets or other dance performances
How young is too young?
While a performance may be designed for a particular grade or age group, you know your children best. If they can act accordingly for the duration, please, by all means, allow them the opportunity to experience anything and everything they can. But, have realistic expectations. It is unreasonable to think a 2-year old will sit still and quiet for an hour-long performance of classical music much less an infant. They may…they may not. Don’t take the chance if there is any question. It will only annoy those around you and cause a distraction which is rude to others.
Homeschool Pool can understand how it can sometimes be difficult to find (or pay for) sitters or child care for younger siblings in order to allow the older ones to go on a field trip. However, the fact is that not all occasions are appropriate for all ages. Yes, this may mean that everyone has to stay home. Argue your case all you want, the education your child may get is no excuse for disrupting everyone else’s. If your child can not or will not abide by proper theater manners, keep them home.
Prepare for the theater
The easiest way to ensure your children are well behaved and attentive during a performance is to properly prepare them. Explain that going to the theater is special and they need to be on their best behavior. Detail your expectations so there are no surprises. Also, explain what it is they are going to see. Discuss what they should look or listen for. Come up with talking points and let them know what you will discuss after the show so they can keep an eye or ear out. Don’t worry, you won’t ruin any surprises. Younger kids will especially benefit from knowing what to expect before getting there.
Do this every time. If there are special circumstances, talk about this also. For example, typically there is no talking allowed. However, there are some interactive performances that encourage audience participation. Be very clear in your expectations and your kids will follow through.
Homeschool Pool would love to be able to give you a hard and fast rule about how to properly dress for the theater but there simply is not one. Where we live there are extremely casual outdoor events that occur in the early afternoon. Shorts and a shirt are perfectly acceptable at these events as long as they are nice. But, it is better to err on the side of over dressed than under dressed. If you build up all theater events as special occasions, everyone will be thrilled to dress up. Use common sense. Matinee performances are more casual than evening but you should always dress nicely. Avoid ratty, torn clothing. Take care in your appearance. Do not wear anything that will block the view of others behind or around you including hats.
Most theater performances require complete silence while performers are on stage. Complete. Silence. Your child’s questions and your well meaning whispered explanations are distracting to those around you no matter how quiet you think you are being. Questions can be asked during intermission. Of course, there are exceptions. Q&A sessions in between pieces, audience participation and interactive performances occur occasionally. You should know beforehand what is and is not okay and be able to explain this to your children.
Feel free to speak to your neighbors in subdued tones before the performance starts, during intermission and afterward. But while the performers are on stage, silence. For symphony performances the generally accepted start is when the conductor takes the stage.
Cell phones off
Cell phones, tablets, pagers and other technology of the sort should be off. Off. Not on vibrate. Off. If there is the possibility you will need to be interrupted during a performance then you should not be there. The light from your device is just as distracting as the noise so no texting, surfing the internet, checking to see who called or making calls at all.
Aside from talking there is not much that is more distracting than someone wiggling around in their seat constantly. Subtle movements are acceptable, constant movement is not. If you have to shift, try to wait until a break in the performance. If you are unfortunate enough to be seated in an area where it is difficult to see, craning your neck to try to see around people is highly distracting. Either find a position you can deal with or use your other senses and enjoy it as best you can even with an obstructed view.
Allow ample time to find your seat then stay there. It is considered poor manners to try to get to your seat after a performance has started and in some venues you will not be allowed to and will have to wait until intermission. If you leave your seat during intermission, make your way back in plenty of time before the second act starts.
Applause can be a tricky thing because, while appreciated by the performers, there are times when you should hold your applause until later. Don’t be too eager to applaud. Instead, let the mood of what just occurred sink in a bit and then join in. If attending a conducted concert, wait until the conductor has turned around before clapping and do not start to clap until all sounds have stopped. At the end of a performance, clapping is encouraged. If the performance was especially good a standing ovation can occur and even shouts of “bravo” are appropriate. You should not whistle and even if you do not like the performance it is considered bad form to “boo”.
What if your child misbehaves anyway?
No matter how prepared you are and how well behaved your child usually is, there may be occasion where they simply are having a bad day. What do you do if your child is misbehaving during the performance? If a look or tap on the leg to get their attention won’t immediately fix the behavior it is best to remove the child. While not ideal, it is far better to cause a temporary disruption and remove the child so everyone can enjoy the remainder of the performance than to be a constant irritant.
Be courteous to others as you exit the theater. Do not be in a rush, push or be rude. Allow others to filter out and everyone will depart in an orderly manner. This is now the time to rave or critique the performance with your party and to discuss what you saw. You may even want to do some follow up research and learn more about what you saw.
If everyone adheres to these simple, common sense manners everyone will enjoy the performance and have a lovely time. Teaching theater manners should start early so your kids can have every possible cultural experience possible.
Coming Soon: See also Homeschool Pool’s article on [click here for Museum Manners] and [click here for The Importance of Behaving at Public Functions for Homeschoolers].