Stars of stage used to fear stoney silence in the stalls or the odd catcall from dissatisfied crowds. In 2023, audience reactions are growing more extreme.

There has been a growing trend of serious abuse and even violence in theatres, leading to warnings from theatre bosses and both Edinburgh's Playhouse and GHlasgow's Pavilion threatening to call in police to deal with hecklers and problematic audiences.

The theatre union Bectu has also spoken out about anti-social behaviour, highlighting offences ranging from sexual harassment to physical assaults.

The union has launched a new campaign which calls on venue management to take a more proactive and zero-tolerance approach.

Are they right to be concerned? And what's behind the rise in abuse? 

What’s prompted all this? 

A survey among 1,500 of Bectu’s members indicated that incidents have become more extreme following the pandemic. 

Most of those surveyed, mainly working in front of house, hospitality, box office, stage door, sound and lighting, reported having directly experienced or witnessed poor audience behaviour. 

READ MORE: Drunks, fist fights and theatre's growing problem

Nearly half of respondents said they have thought about leaving the industry as a result. 

What sort of abuse are we talking about?  

Incidents reported included physical aggression, threats of violence, sexual harassment or assault, mass brawls, assaults on staff or other members of the audience, defacing or damaging venues and racial slurs. 

Other issues were general disorderly, unsafe, intoxicated or lewd behaviour; inappropriate use of mobile phones; and vandalism. 

What could be behind it all?  

Bectu said its study revealed a sense of audience “entitlement” and a marked lack of concern for people to enjoy shows. 

The union has launched a Safer Theatres Charter which calls on venue management to take a more proactive and zero-tolerance approach to anti-social audience behaviour. 

The Herald:

Have we seen this in Scotland?  

Yes, unfortunately. The actor James McAvoy said he regretted bringing his last play to Glasgow because of the abuse some of the cast received (albeit in the streets and not in the theatre). Still Game actor Paul Riley has said the problem of audience aggression has been building in recent years. 

Glasgow Pavilion manager Iain Gordon also maintains that audience behaviour has worsened since theatres reopened after the pandemic, with theatre-goers no longer respectful of the venues or their staff.  

What’s the union said?  

Head of Bectu Philippa Childs said: “Our findings are a resounding call for the industry to do better by its workers, and for audiences to consider and amend their behaviour. 

“The scale and nature of many of the instances reported is deeply disturbing and we will be working with the industry to do all we can to drive urgent and tangible change. 

READ MORE: James McAvoy 'glad to leave' city after racist taunts

“What is clear from these responses is that these instances are neither rare nor isolated, nor are they relegated to a certain type of performance or geographical location.” 

She added: “Across the country people are facing regular aggression and abuse simply for carrying out their jobs. This is wholly unacceptable and we urge venues and industry bodies to commit to working with us to tackle this endemic issue. 

“What we’ve uncovered is that anti-social behaviour extends far beyond relatively minor issues of someone talking during a performance or playing on their mobile phone. People are coming to work fearing for their safety and dealing with behaviour-no one should have to put up with. 

“Many of these workers are already battling long hours and low pay and urgent action is needed to avoid a worsening talent drain.”