Noises In The Crowd

Posted on Nov 3rd, 2009 by Shuchi in Theatre Trivia

TheatreAudience “Switch off your mobile phones”. So say the ushers at a theatre when you enter to watch a play.

You switch off respectfully. There’s total silence, the only sounds you hear are from the scene unfolding on stage. You’re watching with keen attention, when a cough from the audience rents the air.


I can recount several times when I’ve experienced this in a theatre, but had never given thought to it before.

Writer Erik Tarloff has an interesting theory on why these bronchial attacks come on at inopportune moments during a performance. He writes in The Atlantic:

…you don’t hear much coughing in movie theaters. You may hear candy wrappers being rustled and popcorn being crunched and even villains being hissed, but not coughing.

This can’t be an accident. I’m put in mind of Alan Jay Lerner’s observation: "Coughing in the theater is not a respiratory ailment.  It is a criticism."

Read the full piece here.

Next time, if you feel a cough coming during a play, don’t be alarmed that you’ve caught a cold. You’re probably not enjoying the play!

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Article by Shuchi

Shuchi lives in Bangalore (mostly), when she isn’t traveling out of town for work. She adores theatre and writes about plays she watches whenever she gets a chance.

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One Comment to “Noises In The Crowd”

  1. thats a different approach.. don’t agree with it completely..
    theaters are generally smaller spaces that may lack ventilation and that cud b a reason of coughing?? or may be u just wan’t to fill the silence sometime .. this is the simplest most discrete way??
    ah, who knows!!

    November 4th, 2009 11:54 pm

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