Wednesday, May 18, 2016

So You're Going to the Theater

Going to see theatrical productions is among the greatest funs out there! Plays, musicals, whatever—TOTAL AWESOME. Alas, not everyone is so enthusiastic in their theater-going experiences, and so as a quick PSA for other amateurs like myself, here are a few things worth knowing.

Flickr Credit: Ian

What are you going to see?

(many definitions are informed by Wikipedia, which are linked by each definition)

(straight) play—plays are literature meant to be performed. There are lots of different kinds and styles; in general they refer to the non-musical variety. Also, since they are literature, you usually study a few in school!

My Favorites: Othello by William Shakespeare, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, Wit by Margaret Edson

musical—these plays incorporate music, dancing, singing, etcetera into the story. These are the things I go the most often to see and talk the most about on here.

My Favorites: Fiddler on the Roof, Legally Blonde, The Lion King (and fifty others)

operetta—these are “little operas” that maintain the style of operas but are shorter and less serious. As Wikipedia puts it, musicals are plays with singing and dancing, and operettas are operas with more acting.

My Favorites: Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado (Gilbert and Sullivan, anyone?)

opera—operas are another theatrical musical performance that is performed by performers and musicians. Not actors who can sing, but singers who can act. Everything is sung—dialogue (“recitations”) and the arias.

My Favorites: I’m not much into operas, but I’ll say Carmen because it was in Aristocats. Mozart’s Don Giovanni is famous, though.

These are, of course, blanket terms. Les Misérables and Hamilton, for example, are sung-through musicals—like an operetta, but not funny enough. That detail doesn’t define anything. Likewise, there can be overlap. Phantom of the Opera is a musical but opera pieces are performed because Christine is an opera singer.

symphony—these are just long musical pieces that orchestras play. Though they’re often associated with stories, all of that is left to the music, and there aren’t any actual performances.

concert—a concert is any live music performance in front of an audience. A symphony is a kind of concert, but if you went to see a Beatles concert that would not be a symphony. Also worth noting is that sometimes musicals are performed in concert, which means that performers will sing the songs but leave out all the acting. You can see examples of this for Les Mis’s 10th anniversary concert and also Chess on Youtube.


Helpful Hints Compiled by My Own Experiences

Come early. Sure, getting there a while before it starts can be tedious, but if you take a later train or get delayed by traffic, it can cost. In the places I’ve been, they often don’t let people in once the production has started.

Stop talking once the overture starts playing. The music is just as much a part of the performance as the dialogue and singing, so finish up and shut up. (*pent-up anger directed towards the perpetrators of this crime somewhat dissipates*)

Don’t sing along unless you’re invited by the performers.

Do your research before going to a musical. A group of adults heading to a musical they’ve never seen before is one thing; it is another to tote small children to Sweeney Todd or Spring Awakening. Musicals aren’t always cutesy tootsy.

Don’t flip out if you don’t like what the research reveals. Musicals deal with tough themes and sometimes are graphic or crass or tough. It’s okay if you don’t like that, but also nobody likes other people policing their entertainment.

Buy your musical merch used. I’ve found three or four musical shirts at thrift stores for only a couple bucks when they are like $35 bought on-site.

The bathroom is a great place to become a leader. The lines are guaranteed to be long, so if you step out and point out open stalls if they aren’t easily visible, you are a hero.

The box seats are the perfect place to play I-Spy if you ever get bored. One time my sister and I got confused because we were looking at two different old white guys in cowboy hats and Hawaiian shirts. Fun stuff.

Finally, don’t take pictures or video during the performance. I think it’s hard because we’re so used to getting whatever we want and souvenirs from our experiences. But it is distracting for the actors and illegal and sort of disrespectful of the spirit of the work. Resist the urge. Turn off your phone. It’ll be there for intermission.

Okay, mortals. The more you know.

What productions have you gone to see? And, what are your pet peeves at the theater?


  1. *applauds in agreement with hints* Yes to all of them, especially the first and last. As for souvenirs, there really weren't any to buy for the plays I've been to (local and college productions), but I like keeping my tickets and playbills.

    So far, I've only seen straight plays and musicals. I like both, though I've seen more musicals. Some of my favorites are Les Mis, Sunday in the Park with George (this was the first time I'd ever been to a "real" theatrical production and was a fun intro to theater, though it's been years since I've seen it), and one of the local colleges did a 1940s radio show/Christmas Carol last year, which was so great. Probably the funniest I've seen so far. :)

    1. *nods* Local and college productions generally don't, I agree. Tickets and playbills are fine when those are your souvenirs, but like, if you want a t-shirt? Go somewhere else. Forrealz.

      I haven't heard of Sunday in the Park with George. Hmm... warrants investigation. And that's very cool! They are just so fun.

  2. AMEN! As a pit musician and an all round theatre enthusiast I approve so much of this post! I will be back with a longer comment when i have time

    1. Glad to hear it! And sounds good. I'd love to chat more about this with you. :)

  3. Coming from someone who has never seen a professional (I don't think school musicals count) live play/musical/whatever, these are very good tips. I wanted to see The Lion King when it was in Brisbane but I couldn't justify the plane ticket and the theater ticket to go see something I was only mildy interested in. I have, however, been to a Casting Crowns concert, which was amazing. I'd love to see Owl City or an orcestra live (like the London Symphony Orchestra).

    1. Oh, you don't? I always count them, because I can. I got to see The Lion King a few months ago and I really loved it. :) Those all sound like fun things to try and see if you can, though!

  4. Yes! Everything is sooo true. As someone who loves going to the theatre and does not go to the theatre enough to be someone who loves going through the theatre, I thoroughly approve. Also, if people wouldn't scream and stuff while they're clapping when it's uncalled for, that would be great :)

    1. Tell me about it, right? And yes, screaming is maybe appropriate at the very end if it is that kind of musical. But probably it is not. So don't. *agrees sagely*

  5. First of all, I just wanted to ask if you got my email last week? I just haven't heard from you, so I wasn't sure if I should be concerned or not. ;)

    Anyway, great post! Though I'm confused about the merchandise tip... it doesn't add up with my personal experience in a few different ways. But that's another conversation for another day.

    I look forward to many more chats with you about theatre (which is one of my favorite topics!)!

    1. Replied!

      Oh, really? Whenever I go to the traveling productions, they bring merchandise and it just seems like a lot to me. :P

      Yes, indeed! Feel free to hit me up any time!


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