Theaters and Shows

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Comprehensive terms for places where all types of entertainment events can be viewed, including films, plays, and exhibitions.

Since these types of entertainment affect the public interest, they may properly be subjected to government regulation. The power to regulate must, however, be exercised reasonably since it restrains the free speech rights of performers, filmmakers, and distributors. A city is not permitted to prohibit all theaters or shows, for example, but it can properly set forth regulations governing fire safety and crowd control. In addition, minors, unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, can be forbidden to attend shows or performances after dark or deemed "adult entertainment." Public séances for money-making purposes are sometimes unlawful because they can be used to cheat certain individuals. Temporary shows likely to attract large crowds over a short period of time, such as outdoor rock music concerts, must be approved in advance by authorities who must supervise plans to protect the health and safety of both the people attending the show and those who reside in the area. Local regulations may require that theater buildings be constructed with flameproof materials for floors, walls, seats, curtains, and carpeting; that, in general, a certain amount of light be on even during performances; and that exits large enough to handle crowds be placed at different sides of the building and clearly marked. Theaters are ordinarily required to have ushers on duty to maintain order by supervising the movement of crowds.

Ticket Sales

To protect the public, a number of communities have enacted statutes regulating the resale of tickets for any kind of theater or show in order to discourage speculation, which weakens the market for the tickets. Such measures also prevent scalping (the process whereby large numbers of tickets purchased at the normal price in order to create a shortage are then sold at extremely inflated prices). A state or local government may make it a criminal offense to sell a ticket for more than the price stamped on it.

Frequently the statutory scheme that proscribes resale of tickets for more than the printed price includes special provisions for ticket brokers, who are in the business of selling tickets for a number of theaters to members of the public. Brokers are strictly regulated to protect the public from fraud, extortion, and exorbitant rates. A dishonest broker could possibly sell tickets for performances not scheduled, sell seats already sold, or scalp the tickets. For the public protection, a state or city may require anyone reselling tickets to be licensed and may revoke the license of any broker who abuses the privilege.


Communities have a proper interest in placing limitations upon obscenity in theaters. It is deemed appropriate to protect unsuspecting or unwilling adults from assaults of indecency and to protect children from graphic displays of pornography. The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution to permit individuals to view obscene materials in the privacy of their own homes; however, since theaters are public places, the law may regulate indecent exhibitions, even where everyone present expected to view pornography and willingly entered. Some states, however, decline to prosecute the spectators under such circumstances. Exhibitors of lewd films in coin-operated booths in amusement arcades cannot claim any right of privacy even though patrons view the films alone in the booths.

censorship of obscene shows is lawful; however, it is sometimes difficult to determine what is obscene. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that works that describe or depict sexual conduct can be regulated if, when taken as a whole, they appeal to a prurient interest, portray sexual conduct in a patently offensive way, and lack serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value. In addition, the Supreme Court has said that communities may apply their own local standards in judging shows, which has led to conflicting decisions in various courts.

A state can regulate theaters and shows in order to control pornography in a number of ways. For example, a state might require distributors or exhibitors who handle films commercially to be licensed, and may revoke the license of anyone who traffics in obscene films. Certain states and municipalities have set up a board of censors who are authorized to view films prior to their exhibition to the public. The concept of censorship by prior restraint is in direct conflict with notions of free speech.


Entertainment Law; First Amendment; Freedom of Speech; Movie Rating; X Rating.