How To Attend A Theatre Show In Saudi Arabia

Last week a Finnish friend and I attended the VIP opening of the iLuminate show in Riyadh. The show itself was spectacular and no doubt worth the trip all the way to the Princess Noura University. The talented performers and genius orchestration of the lights to sync with the music and dance choreography through the computer coded dance suits was thrilling. I can imagine watching iLuminate light show in a NYC theatre (where it originally came from) would be a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

However, the fact is, we are in Saudi Arabia, where there are no public theaters. Not even movie theaters. So there’s just no knowledge of an etiquette on how to behave in one. From the way the audience was acting, you would’ve guessed you’re in the circus, or perhaps a football game. It also seems to be the cultural norm to completely disregard any given rules.PNU Theatre

The rules were stated many times before and during the show: do not to use mobile phones or flash photography. This show is meant to be watched in the pitch dark for the ultimate experience. Compare to how disturbing it is to have someone flashing bright lights in your eyes when you’re driving in the dark for example. I’d say about 50% of the enjoyment was ruined because of so many people feeling the need to be above those rules.

So since there seems to be a lack of knowledge on so-called theatre etiquette, here’s a guide how to attend a theatre performance in Saudi Arabia. Maybe someone can learn a thing or two? Or maybe not.. If anything I promise you a good laugh! We sure had a great time watching the show around us in the audience, because what else can you do than just laugh at the madness and try to take it with a sense of humor? At least we won’t be able to experience a theatre audience like this anywhere else in the world. 

DISCLAIMER: This is a satirical guide. If you don’t understand it or know what is satire, google it. You can also read this guide: How to Become a Miserable Expat in Saudi Arabia to get an idea. Or read this Wikipedia article.

And yes, all these things went down that night in the PNU theatre.PNU Theatre entrance

How To Attend A Theatre Show in Saudi Arabia

-First things first-arrival time. Don’t arrive before the starting time. Everyone knows they’re not going to start on time anyway.

-Arrive from anywhere between 15 min to 1,5h late from the starting time. 

-When arriving late, make sure to disturb as many people as possible on the way to your seat. The best way is to put your phones flashlight function on and flash that into people’s eyes when walking on the aisle and looking for a seat. Think of yourself as a lighthouse. Swing the light around.  

-Don’t sit next to your children in the theatre. This is actually a wildly brilliant idea. When taking seats in the theatre, make sure you place the kids at least three rows in front of you. It’s a very convenient solution for all parents, you can still see them but there’s no other disturbances to you.

-Take an entire picnic along with you. Don’t forget your dallah pot and a huge box of Krispy Creme. The key here is to make everything ruffle, crackle and drop on floors during the performance.

-Pour salsa on the stairway as an ambush for an unsuspecting theatre goer, it makes a good “landmine” prank. Snapchat anyone stepping into or slipping on the mine.

-Under any circumstances, DO NOT turn your mobile off or put the phone in your bag.

-Phones must be in your hand at all times. Ignore that rubbish announcement about mobile phones having to be turned off, and the prohibition of using flash photography or mobiles during the show.

-When holding your phone, remember to switch the screen brightness to maximum to see better.

-Snap chat the entire performance. It doesn’t matter that nothing can actually be seen on the recording, your friends will be so impressed you’re at a theatre they won’t care. And there’s a sound anyways.

-If you’re not on snap chat (hello fossil?) then you must record the entire performance with either Facebook live, instagram live video, or if you’re really just that much behind your times, just a normal video recording will do. Stop the video once in a while to take some pics. The most important thing here is using the flash and keeping screen brightness to a max.

-Bring your portable charger with you to make sure the your phone does not run out of battery in the middle of the performance. What a catastrophe that would be. It’s a smart idea to keep the charger in your back pocket and sit on top of it. If you’re lucky this will cause the charger to overheat and the bench will start smoking. The fire will interrupt the entire performance and you will get some awesome selfies to post to instigraam with the security guards when they try to extinguish the fire. Added bonus you get to snap chat the whole thing and might gain more followers.

-If the lights are suddenly turned on in the middle of the show and you see smoke coming from a seat with security guards gathering at the scene, one holding some burnt object which from afar looks like a roll of dynamite, under no circumstances leave the theatre. Instead, hello, snapchat! Taking a selfie with that going on in the background is a sure-fire way of gaining more followers.

-If the announcer instructs the theatre goers to immediately evacuate the theatre in a calm manner, do not listen to this nonsense. Instead stay where you are- don’t forget snapchat and selfies. 

-In the unfortunate case you happen to run out of popcorn during the show, there’s no problem at all to walk up and down the stairs (just remember those flashlights) to fetch some more. Just make sure to keep a steady flow going.

-Bring your newborn baby to the theatre. It’s always just on overall good idea. It’s a well-known fact how much babies enjoy any kind of theaters. Especially genius idea when the show contains ear blasting decibel volumes, bright flashing lights and the show is late in the evening. WHEN your baby starts crying, make sure to stay in your seat.

-Bring your toddlers. Toddlers always make the best theatre guests. They are just so adorable when they run up and down the hallways, climb on parents, siblings, chairs, stairs, floors, chandeliers and other theatre guests. The attention span of a toddler (approximately 6 seconds) is ideal for watching any kind of show which is scheduled to last at least 90 minutes.

-Bring your preschoolers. Preschoolers are at that age where they actually think everything that’s going on the stage is absolutely real, so bringing them in for the iLuminate show which is not recommended to any under 8 year olds by the founders is a superb idea. Especially if you’re looking to scare the living shit out of your kid for some good laughs. If you’re planning to create some lifelong memories (hello childhood trauma) of alien-like scary figures in the pitch darkness beating up some other red-eyed monster looking figure, or better yet a man-eating glow in the dark gigantic snake, then this would be the perfect show to bring them to.

-Instruct your teenagers to scream, yell and bounce around the seats during the performance as if they’re watching a football game. Throwing popcorn around is a plus.

-If you’re a kid, make sure you leave your shoe mark on the seat in front of you, kick it in similar fashion to the airplanes seats. You can also rest your feet on the seat in front of you.

-At least once during the show, walk up and down the aisle for no reason at all. 

-During the half time break leave the theatre and return after the show already started again, not forgetting those bright flashlights. Come back to different seats chosen at random.

-When an additional nonsense announcement is made during half time to remind people of how disturbing the bright screens are during the performance, once the lights go off again continue as before. 

-If you’re a female security staff member, your best bet is to keep an eye on the western people coming to the theatre, everyone knows they don’t understand arabic or follow rules, especially in theaters. Every time you see a western woman, remind them to either take their seats, stop taking pictures or move from wherever they are standing, it’s wrong anyways. If you see any blonde haired women, it’s recommended to walk to their seats to remind them of the no photos policy in the middle of the show, even if they are not even holding phones in their hands. It’s well-known blondes can be forgetful.

-Check your emails during the show. Something important might have come up and what a better place to read the emails than the theatre.

-Start leaving the show before it’s over. The performers especially will highly value this. Anytime after the first 15 min is fine.

-And finally, leave all your trash behind, preferably thrown on the floors and hallways.


P.S. If you’re still unsure what satire means, it means you should absolutely NOT do what this guide is telling you to do. Trust me friends, this needs to be pointed out.

P.P.S. If you’d like to see the iLuminate show in Saudi Arabia (Jeddah & Riyadh), you can find more info here: Iluminate Dance

P.P.P.S. if you enjoyed reading this you might like to read more satirical entries here.

Example of how crappy the image taken with mobile phone is: (which I took after the show was over)

iluminate Riyadh show

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  • Ersatz ExpatOctober 5, 2016 - 5:35 pm

    I must see about going to the show in Jeddah! This behaviour is not unique to KSA, I have seen and enjoyed it in many places.ReplyCancel

  • SalhahOctober 26, 2016 - 7:20 pm

    I have a question to ask, How should we define cultures which are different from our culture?
    I think other cultures are separate identities that must “not” be evaluated according to “our culture because we will hijack their right to be different. Evaluating A in regard to B will create similarities and differences. Similarities are good to bridge the gaps, but differences widen that gap especially with the force of media which catch every thing that might be exceptional to be published as norm.
    For example, British people may think that Saudi ladies are powerless because they wear Abaya, because a Saudi lady uncovered here face when she was told to cover by religious police which may be found as a news headline or TV show, .That being said, in realty, majority of Saudi ladies love Abaya because it gives them dignity.

    I think other cultures should be evaluated according to their own basics and roots not according to other cultures values and standers. This create variation and enhances differences and helps the world to live respecting and accepting the other nations with their “own” differences not to oblige/impose others to be alike to be respected and accepted. It is a universal democracy. Variation is a natural phenomenon of all creatures on the earth .


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