YE Min, a 38-year-old prosecutor, frequently takes her 6-year-old son to the theater to listen to classical music and attend plays, in hopes of cultivating his taste and appreciation for the arts.
Dong Jiaxuan, the little boy, has been taught by his mother to remain quiet in the concert hall and theaters.
“But he sometimes can’t help asking me questions or talking to himself, which bothers others,” Ye says of their visits to the formal Shanghai Grand Theater, Shanghai Drama Arts Center and other venues.
Starting mid-April, children less than 1.2 meters tall must be accompanied by an adult at 11 theaters (not cinemas) in a 6- to 12-month trial before the regulations are extended citywide.
The exceptions are children’s shows and circuses.
The problems of misbehaving and naturally restless children are not expected to end. Many children are indulged by their parents whose own behavior is far from exemplary, including eating and drinking, loud talking, littering, using cell phones and taking flash photo with loud shutters.
Written regulations, not laws, will require both children and adults to behave.
But enforcement remains very difficult. No penalties are specified and theaters will have to handle rudeness as best they can, setting their own standards.
Many are expected to give gentle warnings before asking visitors to leave — but there’s really no way to eject them.
Discourtesies are already prohibited by many theaters, but many people don’t know the rules or don’t care.
The problem of rudeness is common since many Chinese have not been routinely exposed to cultural events and are still not accustomed to international theater etiquette.
The new regulations covering both standards for theater management and service were recently issued by the Shanghai Performing Arts Association. They address everything from audience behavior to toilet facilities and safety.
The new standards are the first such official rules for theaters in China.
They will be implemented on a trial basis for 6 to 12 months at 11 theaters before being extended to the whole city.
The 11 theaters are the Shanghai Grand Theater, Shanghai Oriental Art Center, Culture Square, Shanghai Concert Hall, Yi Fu Theater, Yi Hai Theater, Wan Ping Theater, Shanghai City Theater, Baoshan Culture Theater, Daning Theater and ET Theater.
Ken Xie, a 30-year-old local working at a real estate company, recalls a lot of rude behaviors at very formal venues, such as the Shanghai Grand Theater. “People next to me talked loudly on their cell phones during a symphony performance,” he gives one example.
“It’s rare to see those disturbing behaviors in other countries, but it’s common in China,” says Xie who studied in England. “Theatergoers overseas respect performers and each other each more than Chinese in general.”
“A theater is a public service space, and their use is about common rights, not personal rights,” says Zhu Kening, vice director of the China Performing Arts Association in Beijing.
He says China lacks official policies and the current ones are too general and need to be more specific and include enforcement.
“We receive complaints about flash photos, children screaming, adults talking loudly, eating fast foods and potato chips — all very annoying to performers and others in the audience,” says Yao Chengying, leader of the Guest Courtesy Team at the Shanghai Drama Arts Center.
Last year, a production of physical theater was stopped because one man got up, walked to the first row, stood in front of the stage and took flash photos.
“The bright flash made it hard for the actor to continue and we stopped for a couple of minutes,” Yao says.
The man was then asked to go back to his seat.
The issue of squirming, talking, noisy children is an ongoing problem, even if they are accompanied by parents, she says. “Most of the time they talk loudly during the shows and other guests complain.”
During her four years at the Shanghai Drama Arts Center, Yao has met many parents who took and wanted to take babies to the theater, though it bans babies and small children. Tickets say “no babies/little children allowed.”
Once, a 1- or 2-year-old child was taken by parents and grandparents to the theater. The child had to be carried.
“The parents hoped to cultivate their baby’s taste in art at an early age, but the drama did not suit the baby, who acted up,” Yao recalls. After she negotiated with the parents for more than an hour, they finally left with the child.
In the case of comedies or musicals, children are sometimes allowed and they tend to behave better because they are interested.
“Shanghai is an international city and theaters are the showcase of culture. We are in great need of norms to standardize theaters and performing venues,” says Wei Zhi, director of the Shanghai Performing Arts Association.
Shanghai has more than 100 commercial performance venues that stage around 15,000 shows a year in total, around 50 shows per day, according to Bei Zhaojian, vice director of Shanghai Administration of Culture, Radio, Film and TV.
More high-end professional venues are under construction, including the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra Concert Hall that makes professional recording; the International Dance Theater in Changning District and the new Poly Theater in Jiading District.
The new standards also cover construction, safety and services. For example, restrooms must provide seats for 2 percent of the audience.