I was always taught to be quiet and respectful of others during movies and especially at live performances (unless they are the sort that invite audience participation).

Yet I’ve been surprised, at my children’s last few school concerts, to find that parents of similar age to myself will chat through the performance, maybe shutting up only when their own child is featured. Although most of the audience members at the local Binghamton Philharmonic concerts are well-behaved, I sometimes hear people humming along or crackling candy wrappers at untoward moments. While I will practically burst my eyeballs to hold back a sneeze until a break between movements!

I’m noticing this sort of thing a lot more in movie theatres, too. And it’s not children or teenagers who seem to be the worst offenders; it’s adults who seem to think everyone around them should be delighted with their running commentary on the film. If you try to shush them, they behave as if you are the one being rude. I googled around a bit and found that audience behavior seems to be a growing problem, at all sorts of entertainment venues. For instance, the San Diego Opera has posted a set of Golden Rules of Opera Etiquette to try to address it.

But maybe I’m not so old-fashioned. During the Regency and earlier periods, the theatre and opera were places to see and be seen. People socialized and often didn’t pay much attention to what was going on on the stage, unless they were heckling the performers or throwing something at them!

Yet at some point this changed. In my googling around, I ran across a book called FASHIONABLE ACTS: Opera and Elite Culture in London, 1780-1880. A review by OPERA America Newsline states that “In a reassessment of British aristocratic culture, Jennifer Hall-Witt demonstrates how the transformation of audience behavior at London’s Italian opera – from the sociable, interactive spectatorship of the 1780s to the quiet, polite listening of the 1870s – served as a barometer of the aristocracy’s changing authority.” It looks interesting–even if the review makes my way of behaving at performances sound so stodgy! Has anyone read it?

So do people talking through movies, concerts, plays, etc…, bug you, too? Why do they do it?