Don't Be Late to the Theatre. But If You Are, Here's How to Act
Wednesday, July 10, 2019  •  
Wed Jul 10, 2019  •  
Broadway  •   3 comments Share This
In theatre, there's no way to be fashionable late.

Late happens. Here are three rules to follow so I won't trip you when you come through my row


It happened to me once. I had tickets to see Jane Fonda in 33 Variations on a weeknight and a work meeting ran late. (Granted, it had transferred to a Ninth Avenue bar, but it was still business.) I thought I gave myself enough time to make it to the theatre, but between getting my waiter's attention, settling the bill and dodging tourists, the curtain had already gone up by the time I reached the box office.

Fortunately, I had an aisle seat and, during a scene change, an usher rushed me to it. And yet I felt guilty. In theatre, there's no way to be fashionable late. If you're tardy to a show, the best you can do is minimize your impact by following three simple rules:

1. Make your entrance quickly and quietly.

When I saw Pretty Woman: The Musical, a mother and daughter arrived after the opening number and stumbled all over me, my girlfriend and others in our row before landing -- drinks in hand -- in their seats. This created a ripple effect not unlike a cell phone going off mid-performance, with everyone in the vicinity scoffing as they literally stepped on toes and blocked views. I think even the cast heard the kerfuffle!

It's inevitable that there will be some amount of distraction when you're late, but you can mitigate the damage by taking off your coat before entering the row, pulling your bags in close so they don't hit anyone and whispering, "So sorry" as you work your way to your seat. Unfortunately, stepping on a few toes probably can't be avoided.

2. The usher is your director.

At a recent matinee of Ain't Too Proud, I witnessed a woman arrive more than a half hour into the show only to find that another theatregoer had decided to sit in her seat -- and refused to give it up! An obnoxious whisper-fight ensued between the two, and it took almost five minutes for theatre management to finally resolve the issue.

Clearly, the person who took it upon himself to "upgrade" his seat was wrong. But as far as I'm concerned, the woman who showed up almost halfway through Act I was also culpable. She made a scene instead of staying silent and letting the staff handle it. When you're late, the usher gets to make the call about where, when and even if you can sit.

3. As an audience member, you have a call time. If you totally blow it, go another day.

I've been at shows where people arrived with less than 20 minutes to go until the end! I almost wanted to applaud their tackiness. I mean at that point, why even bother showing up? You're better off past dating your tickets for another day.

As theatre audiences, we have just a handful of cues, namely when to arrive, applaud and go home. Getting that first one right is key to a successful performance.

What's your worst late seating story? Tell us in the comments!


Follow Doug Strassler at @dougdawg13. Follow TDF at @TDFNYC.

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Mike said:
I can’t remember the last time a Broadway production started on time. People are conditioned to arrive late at this point.
Posted on 7/13/2019 at 1:17 PM
Chris Santoro said:
My mobility issues have reduced me to having to take two buses to get to the theatre - a sure way to be late I've learned. When I arrived, deeply apologetic, for "How I Learned To Drive" the curtain had just gone up but the box office staff and ushers could not have been more sympathetic and helpful. At the first interval, they offered to seat me, but I took a seat in the last row of the orchestra
Posted on 10/1/2022 at 1:32 PM
Anna Collins said:
It was quite helpful when you advised us to take off our coats before entering the row and pulling our bags close to prevent hitting anyone to mitigate the damage of distraction when you arrive at the theater late. My friend invited me to hang out next weekend, and we're considering seeing a Broadway show in the afternoon. I'll take note of what you said while we look to see if there are any avail
Posted on 11/7/2022 at 10:45 PM
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