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The Lone Theatregoer

Posted on 18 November 2009 Written by

I tried an experiment the other week, a test of my mental ability to attend the theatre on my own. Ah, this might be an easy task to handle for those of us experienced theatergoers who regularly embark on solo exhibitions to the theatre. So I set myself a larger challenge.

7 days, 7 shows, all alone.

Admittedly it is just by chance that this challenge came to pass as I was attending a number of shows for work purposes before it dawned on me just how many shows I had accumulated in such a short space of time, and all rather alone.

There seems to be some kind of stigma with the notion of attending the theatre alone. I know I’ve often looked at the lone person in a row and pitied them for a moment. But why? Theatre isn’t exactly a social event other than the fact that people meet on mass to watch something, and then disappear again after the spectacle. We generally don’t communicate during theatre, we sit in silence, surrounded by strangers, so what difference does it make if you actually know the person next to you?

Well, from my experience of the lone theatregoing, it does make some difference, but not always in a negative way.

I must admit that at times I like my own company, I enjoy long walks alone and sometimes it can be hard to find anyone to go see a certain show with me last minute. (Sounds like I’m forming a dating advert here!) However it’s the beginning part, the interval, and the ending of seeing a show that makes the experience of going alone to the theatre a rather daunting affair. You have no one to talk to… instead discussing key plot and characters in your head to yourself, instead of engaging in a debate with your other person. What happens at the end of a show too when you’ve seen something amazing? You want to tell someone, you want to proclaim to the world that you just saw the most breath taking event that has changed your life… isn’t it always good when you have shared that moment with someone else?

Well yes, I guess the answer to that is, yes I do want to share that moment with someone. But going to the theatre alone means you’re actually sharing it with everyone around you, even if you don’t actually know them.

Upon my visit to the National Theatre to see The Habit of Art, I was sitting next to another lone theatregoer who struck up conversation with me during the interval. The reason can only be because it was evident that we were both sitting alone, watching something truly remarkable and wanted to share this delight with someone, and who better than a complete stranger!

This lady turned out to be an out of work actress, who equally shared my passion for theatre, and for Bennetts latest work. We spoke about a whole array of things, about my work, what she does, our love for theatre. It was one of those slightly surreal moments, where I found myself talking to someone purely because we were both in the same position. The Lone Theatregoers.

If I was attending the theatre with someone, would this conversation with this complete stranger ever had occurred? I feel it’s unlikey.

The other 6 shows were far less exciting in meeting people, but proved valuable thinking time for myself. Whilst I would have liked the company at some of the shows that I was present at, equally witnessing these things alone proved a challenge for me. Often reviewers do attend shows on their own, and quite regularly, but I’ve always found that taking someone along with me helps to break apart work or to debate subject matter.

My experiment has in no way made me buy two tickets to all future performances and forcing unwilling friends to attend with me. It has certainly made me appreciate that going to the theatre  can and is a social affair in some manner. However I have the feeling that my attitudes to seeing shows will be the same. If I can find someone to go with me, I shall go with them, otherwise I’ll stick to knowing that I can easily transport myself to the theatre without the fuss of someone else.

So with the above in mind… would you dare to face the challenge of The Lone Theatregoer?

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

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15 Comments For This Post

  1. Chantal Says:

    One perk I like of going to see a show by myself is eavesdropping on what others are saying about it, during the interval and afterwards!

    Another bonus of going alone is that it’s more likely that you’ll spot/bump into others you know, as you’d be less likely to notice them if you’re with someone else.

  2. Corinne Says:

    Of my theatre-going I’d say that about 40% of the shows I see I go alone. Whilst now some of that is for work reasons I’ve happily gone to the theatre on my own since I was 18. Firstly, it means I see stuff rather than faffing around trying to sort out schedules. Secondly, it allows me to take risks that I’d feel guilty about if I was possibly squandering someone else’s evening/money. In an ideal world an articulate/equally theatre obsessed/witty person who didn’t take a production that didn’t quite work to heart would be around to go with (throw in good at getting through bar queues and well dressed and you probably have my ideal person full stop). Some times such people are but when they’re not I love theatre far too much to let that stop me. And I’d always rather go on my own than with someone who doesn’t quite want to be there.

    I’ve had some wonderful conversations on some of the occasions when I’ve ended up sitting next to other solitary theatre-goers (for they’re always there for love of theatre not out of duty). And, like Chantal, I love eavesdropping (so much so that I write down conversations to use in writing at some unspecified point in the future). And if that fails pre-show/ during an interval – I’ve always got a book!

    But I agree – when you see something brilliant/ confusing/ just gets into your head there is nothing better than getting a drink post show and letting it all spill out. And for all my advocacy of solo theatre going I try to avoid seeing comic things alone (always better shared with a sidewards glance to the person you came with).

    And not to undermine all of that – should there be a solo club (I know the ROH run one for their friend subscribers who come alone)?

  3. Kris Says:

    I very rarely go *with* someone to see a show, almost everything I go to see I see on my own. Part of that is a bi-product of reviewing, the other part of it is the eternal student in me who wants time to digest and enjoy what I’m seeing without having to entertain an accomplice in the process!

    I too love striking up conversations with strangers and eavesdropping on other people’s opinions of the production. They often help shape my overall opinion of a piece, even if I don’t always agree with what they’re saying.

    The only thing I have to watch out for is when I laugh a bit too heartily on my own… at least when you have a friend you have someone for cover; when you’re alone you just look mad!

  4. Alex Says:

    I prefer seeing theater alone. If I am with someone else, I am aware of their presence and they anchor my identity. The presence of someone I know next to me reminds me of myself and our relationship, and this makes it harder for me to honestly open myself up to whatever the theater piece proposes. I don’t like being distracted by their reaction or wondering what they think if I react strongly to something. If it’s all strangers around, I’m anonymous and that means I can react truthfully.

  5. Simone Says:

    I love going to the theatre on my own, it has never been an issue for me really. It wasnt until I met the Whingers that I joined some of their organised theatre outings which I also look forward to. Like you Jake I have struck conversations with many interesting people when I go on my own and have kept in touch with them. Funny enough, I actually met two who recognised me because they read my blog.

    I also find that when I book for certain performances, I really can not be bothered to ring or check with any of my friends if they want to come because I know it will take them forever to decide and I can’t be bothered waiting. I still organise theatre gigs with my friends from time to time.

    It’s true that the experience of seeing a production with other people is fun, as you can talk about it during the interval, or leave if youre all feeling inclined, or have discussions afterwards but although I enjoy this from time to time, I still relish going to see a production on my own. I just love those moments when I am lost in the sea of anonymity but I am not really alone.

  6. Mike Rivers Says:

    You may be interested to know that Richmond Theatre, http://www.ambassadortickets.com/Richmond-Theatre,have initiated a scheme called Midweek Meet to allow solo theatregoers to meet in a private area for selected shows over a glass of wine before the performance and during the interval.For an extra £5.00 you get a glass of wine and a programme, which is cheaper than buying your wine and programme separately.
    Shows and dates as follows:
    Present Laughter – 20 Jan
    Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime – 10 Feb
    Blood Brothers – 24 March
    Oh What a Lovely War – 28 Apr
    Hope you find this useful.

  7. Gill Says:

    Richmond Theatre’s first Midweek Meet was a jolly affair thanks to Mike River’s drink dispensing and Noel Coward’s fizzing wit with Present Laughter. A good opportunity to mingle and chat with other theatre goers. Hope the idea catches on.

  8. Claire Says:

    I sometimes get annoyed – perhaps wrongly- when I go to the theatre with someone who clearly doesn’t particularly want to be there. If I took time to find someone who was interested in the show and was organised enough to get back to me, I’d probably miss getting good seats or, more importantly, an ANLO ticket. I’m quite comfortable in my own company, and quite like simply soaking up the atmosphere of a theatre without being conscious that someone who I am perhaps meant to also be entertaining is sat next to me.

    The only slightly awkward thing is, as you said, the milling around at the start and in the interval, but if you time it right it’s fine, and also if you go to one theatre regularly you will start to build up friends there are thus the whole experience becomes more social if you want it to be.

    There is an exception to this in that things such as pantomimes and comedy nights and things where laughter is expected, it is nice to share a laugh or a knowing nod with someone who you know and like.

  9. miranda Says:

    I would say like most of the people here, I generally fly solo at theatre outings. I like the independence, knowing I can fully enjoy it without wondering what anyone else thinks/if they are bored. I have always found people to talk to during the interval or the beginning , maybe because I’m claustrophobic and look terrified and have had strangers reassure and comfort me or because i have outlandish outfits on. I love theatre solo as i know, I wouldn’t of met/spoken as many if any interesting people. I’ve met out of work actors/reviwers and fellow Samuel Barnett lovers. I find the theatre alot more enriching and worthwhile experience alone.

  10. Liz Sharp Says:

    Thank you, your combined comments have encouraged me to go it alone having been recently widowed at a comparatively young age and not wanting to let go one of my major enjoyments in life. Time to book some tickets!

  11. Howard Says:

    If you’ve a partner or close friend with whom it’s easy to mesh diaries than theatre companionship can be great but if you both have jobs that aren’t 9-5 or where an assignment can come up at short notice you really can’t plan far ahead and as one of the other correspondents says trying to replace a companion at short notice is not easy. You waste time you haven’t got on calls to people who aren’t free even if they fancy the idea.

    Going alone makes it much easier to take advantage of that last minute reduction and if you are reviewing the PR will probably delighted that you don’t eat into her/his allocation – and you can rush off afterwards and write without having to worry about not being social with your companion, though it does deprive you of a view to quote which differs from your own.

    I wonder whether others have my experience that on inviting someone to join you most of them immediately ask is it good? If its a first night that is what you are going to find out. Of the 150 odd shows I’ve seen so far this year there have been plenty of good ones – butalso those that you would have to be really passionate about theatre to sit through!

  12. NJ Says:

    Good post! I tend to go alone most of the time anyway -
    don’t have a ‘significant other’ to go along with, and
    most of my friends, while as much into the theatre as I
    am, turn all wishy-washy at the last minute and then don’t
    come. So yes, a lone venturer to the theatre most of the times.

    But it doesn’t mean you can’t strike up an interesting
    conversation or two with a stranger. The last time I saw
    some Ibsen I had the most blissful chat with a Professor of
    Musicology from the States, who shared a passion for The
    Lady from the Sea as well. So yes – a good opportunity to meet
    new people – if it is only in the interval, over some bar
    snacks…

  13. Meaghan Says:

    I almost always go alone to shows because I want to review them. But my art community is so small you’re always running into someone!

  14. Liz Says:

    I’ve been going to the theatre on my own for best part of fifteen years. I totally agree that I want to discuss the production with somebody else. But at the same time, if I hadn’t gone on my own, I would have missed out on so much.

  15. Rachel Says:

    A great piece! I find my own habits interesting to observe, in that I would be happy toddling along to the theatre alone but would not dream of cinema-ing it without a bunch of mates or at least a significant friend to go with. Yet this is in an even darker auditorium and with no opportunity to discuss the unfolding events at the half-way point…

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