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News / Theater & Performance

What not to do at Hugh Jackman’s new Broadway show

The River
Photograph: Richard Termine The River

The River, currently playing on Broadway and starring Hugh Jackman, is a hushed, intimate drama…and audience members have been acting like pigs. Masses of them are clearly there to see the hunky action star, not savor the ambiguities and delicate silences in Jez Butterworth’s unnerving mediation on nature, love and relationships. So thunderstruck are they to be in a theater with the godlike Jackman, they forget to turn off their phones. Or worse, they snap pictures. At the press night I attended, some woman lacking a filter filled in the final, quiet moments of the play with an audible, “Holy shit!” Nice way to ruin a final tableau.

How bad has it gotten? There’s a note inserted in the program, begging people to turn their damn phones off, signed by the actors. Now understudy Kerry Warren also takes the stage and reminds the audience to silence its frigging devices. “Before we had the onstage announcement, despite the note from the actors, we had constant interruptions from phones, texts and flashing lights,” producer Sonia Friedman explains. She says the extra live request “seems to be working, as we haven’t had a problem since Kerry started doing this preshow announcement.”

I’m not so sure. The night I saw it, there was one or two Siri bleeps, not to mention loud shushing and the aforementioned holy-shit lady. It’s embarassing, making New York theatergoers look like vulgar rubes. So here are things to keep in mind if you attend The River.


Applaud Hugh's entrance. This is a chamber drama with three actors and a whole lot of pauses, not goddamn Boy from Oz II. Restrain your starfucker reflex and try to imagine Hugh is a normal human being.

Clap after every scene. Maybe you think the rule for theatergoing is to slap your nose-pickers together after each song (for a musical) or scene (for a play). Just sit quietly and take it in; you can applaud at the end to your little heart’s content.

Ask your companion, "What’s going on?" 
Work it out later, dirtbag. Sometimes art resists comprehension, at least on a conscious level. Some of you look like you started going to theater lit by candles; you should have learned that by now.

Utter a forehead-smacking remark, as if you "got it." This is not a call-and-response type of hoedown, sweetie. I don’t care how into it you are. STFU. Also, there’s nothing to get.

Scream "I love you, Hugh! But in a totally nonsexual, not-at-all-weird way, and we can hang out any time and have a beer and talk about whatever you want, y'know?!?" Okay, that one’s on me. I apologize for that.



Erin F

Whoever is writing that article doesn't need to be so rude.

Mike C

I never understood why people applaud when an actor appears onstage...why would you applaud the introduction of a a character?!

Toby L

I saw The River recently.My best advise...just sit there quietly and take in the beauty and splendor of Hugh Jackman's being. I do not know what the hell I saw and I am an intelligent theater goer. Nevertheless, I totally enjoyed the scenery...the fish gutting and stuffing moment made me quiver with excitement. It is the first time in a long time I wasn't hot from menopausal stirrings. Read my take at: ‎


I witnessed Kate Bush at her concert in the London recently - the first concert I'd been to in many years where the audience actually respected the performer's wishes to not photograph or record any of the show. Staff were employed specifically to wander around the (seated) crowd making sure this didn't happen, and to my knowledge, it didn't. Rather sad that they felt the need. However, focusing on the show itself and NOT how to capture it, clearly allowed the audience to take away so much more from the experience, an experience to treasure in their memories rather than dump it on Facebook in seconds and then move onto the next big thing...I hope this trend begins to grow. Real connection as it used to be.

Richard G

Please engage with my campaign 

I was fed up with the situation in the UK, but mobiles in particular, are now a universal problem in arts venues.

Join us and spread the word @theatrecharter  and

Gary T

Levi M --- LIVE and HUMAN EXPERIENCE, true.  Getting people to feel and respond, also true.  But why should the theatre experience of those who DON'T blurt out their "Holy Shits!" have it ruined by those who do?  Some might laugh as a reflex ... others might simply be angry and frustrated because they were taken out of the moment.  Why condone the theatre experience becoming more about the person who blurts than the piece in front of them?  It's not an elitist thing, it's common courtesy.

Joel C

@Gary T If someone's response ruins your "appreciation" of the moment because they "appreciate" it more than you. That's your fault. Not theirs. 

Levi M

I'm utterly disgusted with this article.  As a theatre artist myself, I am constantly reminded in performance and in experiencing others work that theatre is a LIVE and HUMAN EXPERIENCE.  It brings communities of people together that otherwise would not be together and a sequence of events unfolds through storytelling.  If it's done well there is a sense of catharsis that the audience feels.  Who are you, David Cote, to say that one persons genuine human experience and honest response to artistic work should be checked at the door? 

My only problem with theatre nowadays is how inaccessible it has become to the masses and how those who do attend have a sense of entitlement.  Back in the Shakespeare's day the poor sat in the pit.  Everyone applauded when the stars walked on stage. And it was a REAL human experience shared together regardless of class.  People shouted and cried if their favorite character died or joined in the revelations happening before them.  It wasn't pretentious and inaccessible as it has become today.  Why should only the rich elite (and, more often than not, WHITE) folks trained in quiet theatre etiquette get to experience living art?

There are those who sit back in their high rise apartments, drinking champaign, talking about the art they just experienced and how their lives are forever changed.  And then there are the artists.  Artists who aren't afraid of a challenge or an audience that may not be trained in "theatre etiquette".   Artists who tell stories that will make you walk away and re-examine your life.  Artists who inspire those who didn't know the power of theatre.   Artists whose story moves you to tears or causes you to shout "holy shit!" when the journey gets under your skin. You want an uninterrupted perfect performance: go watch a yourself!  But if you want to experience something magical and alive, to be surrounded by people who at the end of the performance all have to take a moment to exhale; if you want to be a part of a living, breathing event, and truly experience it as a community: then go watch a play.  

But please, turn off your cell phones.


@Levi M I hope to never sit near you in the theatre/

Liz M

It's champagne, sweetie.


I feel like this article should be titled "What Not to Do at ANY Show, You Philistines."

Mary T

I just saw Bob Dylan in Chicago and he asked there be no pictures what so ever, before, during or after the show. They even spoke to everyone , individulally as they showed their tickets, and people still took out their phones and took pictures, like it didn't pertain to them. They had at least 4 people who's job it was to ask folks not to turn on their phones and still people didn't seem to care, no matter what age they were. It made me very sad to see this side of our culture, really sad. 

Cary V

Hilarious. This is article serves as a snapshot of the sign of our time.

Justin T

Part of the reason the "theatre" is a dead art form in this country. 


@Justin T A lot of things are dead in your country, starting from art, culture and respect for both.

Justin T

@ColonelWeaver @Justin T On a National level I would agree. But things are exactly the same in your country. The only place to find real culture is among small communities of artists who haven't been discovered yet. No one goes to Broadway for art anymore, they haven't for years. Broadway is about seeing people fly around on broomsticks and scream. The last great play on Broadway was Edward Albee's "The Goat" back at the turn of the century.


@Justin T Unfortunately, the cultural barbarism is global, but I have not found anywhere else such a high level of rudeness in theaters as well as in your country and I say this with regret because I love your country.


Find a real intellectual among American audience is like to find Snow White in the ranks of ISIS...good luck.  The River is born in Europe and european audience is by far more sophisticated compared to them. I'm not surprised that a lot of them wasn't able to understand The River, maybe it was more suitable for them something like "Porky's The Musical".


@ColonelWeaver plural makes it "weren't" not "wasn't." also, your syntax is vaguely eastern european. try "perhaps more suitable for them would be something like…" then you're OK. however "porky's" is a pretty old school allusion, was your goal to be sardonic, "maybe it was more suitable for you something more contemporary like Dumb and Dumber To?"


@anthonydodge53 I've made the effort to write in your language, you would never be able to write and speak in my language. American audiences go to the theater with their smartphones on, their children go to school with a loaded gun. Who's dumber? 


@ColonelWeaver @anthonydodge53 then kudos to your english. however, if you re-read what i wrote, you'll see i was calling the american audience dumber by jocularly suggesting a more contemporary movie.