Not all theatre is interactive
Boo! Shame on those unruly audience members who talk back to the actors, jeer at a struggling diva, throw rotten tomatoes at the stage, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. They are called hecklers.
Heckling bears no relation to cheers, laughter, applause, and other honest verbal reactions to what takes place on stage. (If a performer asks, “How are you feeling tonight?”—it’s fine to answer aloud, as long as you’re polite about it. And feel free to hiss when the villain comes on stage during a melodrama.) If you have a negative response to what you are seeing, that’s OK too. But it’s a good idea to keep it to yourself until after the show, or express it in a way that doesn’t bother your fellow audience members.
Heckling can be the stuff of tabloids (Hollywood Star Meltdown: Drunk Actor Assaults Performer During Broadway Show, Exits Theatre in Handcuffs) or a minor irritation, but either way it’s annoying.
Hecklers have been known to disrupt performances to make a political point, though that kind of protest is usually more effective on the sidewalk outside the theatre. Comedians, bands, and politicians occasionally have to deal with hecklers, too. A skilled performer (or candidate) learns how to diffuse the moment or use the disruption to his or her advantage. But by and large, heckling is annoying to performers and audiences alike.
Wait, you say, not all heckling is bad? That’s true: Heckling has been part of the theatre since as far back as the Ancient Greeks. It goes along with live performance (and viniculture). Occasionally, heckling is part of the act. Vaudeville shows sometimes included pseudo-heckling by a member of the company, played for comic effect. Sometimes the heckler pretended to be an audience member. This could be a fun way to break the fourth wall. A more recent example: Remember Waldorf and Statler from The Muppet Show? This pair of crusty grumps ensconced in box seats regularly trashed the show as it was happening, making fun of their fellow puppets and special guests. How rude! How funny!
The bottom line about heckling: Unless you’re part of the production, don’t do it!
— Ben Pesner