“The Disruption Dilemma”: Exploring Approaches to Managing Audience Behaviour

What the Numbers Say

Ticketsolve recently conducted a survey involving over 350 arts organisations, on  “the Disruption Dilemma” exploring the challenges of disruptive audience behaviour. The responses provided interesting insights into experiences regarding audience etiquette from venues across the UK and Ireland. 

The survey revealed that more than 90% of respondents have encountered issues with audience members causing distractions and interruptions during shows. Common disruptions include inappropriate use of electronic devices, talking, late arrivals, early departures, and other antisocial behaviour.

Surveyed venues consensus was that such disruptions can negatively affect both the performers’ experience and the overall quality of the show for other patrons. While over 60% of organisations have policies or rules in place regarding audience behaviour, the methods for addressing violations vary significantly from one venue to another.


Exploring Approaches

To explore how venues are tackling the challenge, we spoke to five organisations of different sizes and programming, showcasing innovative approaches to managing audience behaviour:

Princes Theatre Using Venue Spaces

As a multipurpose venue, Clacton-on-Sea’s Princes Theatre found a creative  way to deal with disruptive behaviour among audience members. They turned part of their seating area into a dance floor – accommodating over 600 patrons, including seating for those with mobility issues.

They initially tried this idea in 2023, to great success. There were fewer issues, the atmosphere was more lively, and the Princes Theatre team received positive feedback. Providing a dedicated space for dancing helped prevent problems caused by people standing up in their seats too often.

For shows without the dance floor, they also make use of the spacious aisles by encouraging people to dance there instead. They use signs and reminders to guide patrons, and if someone does stand up in their seat, the staff allow it once before asking them to move to the aisles. While it depends on available space, setting up designated areas for dancing has proven to be an effective way for the Princes Theatre to manage disruptive behaviour while making the customer experience better.

Kilm Theatre & Cinema Consistency is Key

As an intimate venue with fewer than 300 seats, Kiln, based in Kilburn in London, understands the challenges of managing guest behaviour – and has developed a focus on consistency over rules. They start by welcoming guests with reminders about behaviour expectations when they buy tickets, and they have the same reliable security staff enforcing rules from one show to the next.

Kiln has found that directly talking to their small, close-knit audience is more effective than just using signs or posters. They aim to make good behaviour a habit for both new and returning guests by repeating their rules and procedures often. Sometimes they need to be firmer in their messaging, but overall, a consistent and clear approach helps prevent surprises that could lead to disruptions.

Ipswich Theatres Proactive Policies and Procedures

Ipswich Theatres take a proactive approach to handling disruptive behaviour among patrons by following certain policies and procedures:

  • Setting expectations

    They have formal rules, especially regarding dancing in certain areas, which ticket holders must agree to before booking. They also use signs and announcements during shows to make standards clear.

  • Empowering staff

    All staff members receive conflict resolution training and are authorised to refuse alcohol service or address issues with patrons before they escalate. Managers are available to handle serious incidents.

  • Addressing issues early

    Visible signs discourage inappropriate behaviour like filming or photography, and guests are screened at entrances to prevent entry of visibly intoxicated individuals

  • Utilising security

    Additional security personnel are brought in as needed to assist in managing disruptive behaviour, and bag checks are conducted for some shows.

The theatre sees this as a mutual commitment: they provide entertainment in a safe environment, and patrons must behave responsibly. If guests cannot follow the rules, they won’t be allowed in the venue – it’s as simple as that.

AMATA Arts Centre About the Messaging

As a university-based theatre with limited parking, AMATA Arts Centre in Falmouth faces the challenge of late guest arrivals. Unable to relocate closer to parking areas, they focus on communication strategies. By carefully assessing all messages, they prioritise informing patrons about potential delays, giving them ample warning beforehand. Although some guests still miss this information, their thoroughness helps defend against problems when they arise.

Additionally, AMATA has reviewed the language used in their guidelines over the past year to promote inclusivity. They replaced authoritarian terms like “rules” with “house guidelines”. Framing their guidelines as invitations rather than mandates has proven effective. Overall, thoughtful communication with the audience allows AMATA to establish clear expectations regarding behaviour and facility policies, fostering a positive experience. Even though they can’t control all external factors, highlighting key details emphasises the importance of information.

Riverside Theatre The Three-strike Rule

Unlike some venues,  Riverside Theatre in  Coleraine allows outside food and even alcohol into the auditorium to improve the customer experience, especially for comedy shows. However, they still need to address any disruptive patron behaviour.

Instead of a clearly stated policy, Riverside follows an internal “three strike rule” for handling issues. The duty manager gives a warning for the first offence. If the problem persists, the duty manager will ask the patron to leave. On the third incident, security will remove the non-compliant guest if they refuse to leave voluntarily. This system offers guests opportunities to correct their behaviour before being expelled.

However, staff also have a process to escalate situations if necessary. Management fully backs the duty manager’s decisions, allowing them to enforce rules without fear of consequences. By blending hospitality with clear expectations, Riverside balances customer satisfaction with limited disruptions.

These case studies demonstrate that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to challenged faced by venues when it comes to audience behaviour. However, the creative approaches taken by these venues offer early insights into potential strategies, including space design, improved communication, proactive policies, and graduated consequence systems.

For further conversation on whether venues should strictly enforce rules or adapt to changing cultural norms, to avoid excluding certain audiences, check out our podcast with cultural studies expert Kirsty Sedgeman.