THEATER AUDIENCES: WE SUCK

Joseph Fusco
5 min readAug 1, 2021

BUT WE DON’T HAVE TO…

Classic photo of audience members wearing 3D glasses during the first screening of “Bwana Devil,” the first full-length, color 3D movie, November 26, 1952, at the Paramount Theater in Hollywood.
Audience watching “Bwana Devil,” the first 3D movie, November 26, 1952 at the Paramount Theater, Hollywood. Photo credit: J.R. Eyerman/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Making moviegoing enjoyable shouldn’t just be incumbent on movie theaters. We, as responsible audience members, play an important role in preserving the experience of going to the movies.

I get it. A great number of us have been cooped up in our homes for the past year and a half. As restrictions are lifting, some of us are returning to the movies. Problem is, from my recent observation and experience, we’re having some trouble remembering what it is like to be anywhere other than our living rooms. We are out of practice at being in public and at the theater. We’ve become even more undisciplined audience members than we were pre-Covid. How many times did you see people checking their phones and texting during a movie before the shutdowns? Remember how unpleasant and distracting it was? In a year of no theater, have we learned nothing?

I really don’t want to think about it, but the next shutdown could be right around the corner. Until that time (hopefully it never comes), I would really like to not have to be that guy yelling over your shoulder during the movie. Here are four tips for becoming better audience members:

1. DON’T BE LATE

Do you have a job? School? Class? Airplane tickets? I bet you show up on time. Well, the same should be applied to going to the theater. If you show up late to a show, the people sitting around you (who managed to get there on time) have sunk into the groove of the film. Suddenly, there you are, showing up twenty minutes after the film started. You crawl over people or make them get out of the row so you can squeeze in. Meanwhile, you’re blocking the view of the people behind you who are now getting some live action shadow puppet show.

Now, I know unexpected things come up — there’s traffic or the subway is delayed — life can totally get in the way of getting somewhere on time. It happens. However, if you get to a movie late, even with the best intentions, don’t make others pay for it. Sit in the back. Or grab that seat in the front that nobody likes. Stand out of the way and out of eyesight from others. Better yet, exchange your ticket for a later show. Most theaters will do that. If you’re late, everyone else will suffer. So, try not to be late. If you are, don’t be an a**hole.

2. SIT STILL

Sit down, and sit still. Shouldn’t be too difficult a concept. (Yes, I understand there are people with medically conditions who cannot physically control their bodies. This is not that.)

I recently had a guy show up late to a screening of Casablanca and sit down right in front of me, who then proceeded to lean hard left, then bank right, then lean all the way forward, then all the way back, then hard left again. It was giving me motion sickness. Every time he flipped and flopped, me and the rest of the people behind me had to move to see the screen. Humphrey Bogart just saw Ingrid Bergman for the first time since they were in Paris! Dude.

Pick a spot, and stick with it. If you can’t do that, then maybe going to a theater isn’t the right choice for you. Again, I understand if a person has restless leg syndrome. That’s something that can’t be helped and I am not speaking to that person. The movies should be accessible to everyone, regardless of ability. I am speaking to the person that sat in front of me in Casablanca (thus inspiring this column) who was shifting all around being a jerk and asked me what MY problem was. YOU SIR. You’re my problem. YES, I AM SPEAKING TO YOU!

3. TURN OFF YOUR PHONE

Or at the very least, put it on airplane mode. Your ringtone is not anyone else’s business. And chances are, if you’re at the movies and your phone isn’t turned off, your ringtone WILL BE everyone else’s business. So do yourself and everyone around you a favor, take a few moments to learn how to put your phone into airplane mode. If you are unsure, ask someone. If you must, ask a theater employee. They will happily show you. And not only will they happily show you, they won’t judge you for not knowing. In fact, they will appreciate you for asking.

Also, don’t scroll through your social media. Literally everyone behind you can see your phone light up the room. So If you don’t like the movie, or you’re bored, or you don’t want to be there, leave. Go to the lobby and wait there if you’re with someone and can’t leave. But don’t assume that just because you are not engaged by the movie that nobody else is either. Some of us like black and white films that move at a slower pace.

4. SHUT THE F*** UP

Pretty much says it all. People go to the movies to see the movie, not listen to your commentary, your argument, your stoned out laughter, or your phone conversation. So, therefore, Shut The F*** Up. If you want to engage with each other, don’t come into the movie. If you do come into the movie, keep your trap shut when the lights go down. It’s really that simple. Otherwise you might hear a very frustrated member of the audience scream across the theater: “SHUT THE F*** UP!!!!”

Dancing popcorn, soda, and candy boxes, from the 1957 animated film, “Let’s All Go To The Lobby.”
Taken from 1957 animated film, “Let’s All Go to the Lobby.” © 1957 Filmack Studios

There you have it, your (somewhat) friendly reminder that the world is not in fact your living room. Unfortunately for most of us, our living room was our whole world for a while. Believe me, getting readjusted to people again is hard work. I am trying to be patient, but some of the things I’ve witnessed recently at the movies is not ok. I don’t understand, you just spent a lot of money to come to this place — why even bother if you’d rather be on your phone?

So when you go back to the movies or live theater, please remember we all have a collective responsibility to be good audience members. To be a good audience actually takes a little bit of work. But trust me, the work is soooo worth it.

See you at the movies!

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Joseph Fusco

Joseph Fusco is a writer, director, actor, and drummer from New York City.