Why we need to break the myth of ‘real’ audiences.

In last Thursday’s (25/07) Evening Standard, a reader named Ian lamented about the increase in poor etiquette among theatre audiences, citing plastic bottles and alcohol as his main grievance. I empathised with this statement- in the past few months (albeit in film audiences), I have witnessed full conversations, Snapchatting, texting, bare feet in seats or draped over the backs of others and one instance of streaming the Love Island final during a late night showing of John Wick 3. (I kid you not!) Other people ruining your experience? I get it.

In typical ‘You had me and then you lost me’ fashion, Ian went on to say he was of the opinion that the rise in annoying behaviour was due to more people attending with discounted or complimentary tickets taking away from the experience of ‘real’ theatre-goers. In an industry well-documented for being notoriously difficult to get into if you aren’t ‘the usual type’, it is stereotypical and dangerous to assume that not having a full-price ticket automatically means not being able to conduct oneself in any given situation; not to mention damaging to potential (perfectly behaved) audience members who may feel intimidated by such an attitude.
It was pleasing to see Jessie Thompson, Digital Arts Editor, respond by asking Ian how he would define a ‘real’ theatre-goer. I myself have had to ask this very same question after a particular show was deemed not to have a ‘typical’ theatre going audience, and the answer is never concrete, or even readily available. As long as there is a perception that some audiences are more ‘typical’ or ‘real’ than others, the only casualty will be the theatre industry itself.