Leave it to the ubiquitous cell phone to put live theater in the headlines recently.
First, Nick Silvestri, attending a performance of “Hand of God” at the Booth Theater in New York with his family, climbed onstage before the show began and tried to plug his cell phone into what he thought was a working electric plug on the show’s set.
Then, actor Patti Lupone, who is currently starring in “Shows for Days” on Broadway became so frustrated with audience members’ cell phones going off and in particular, one woman who texted throughout the show’s curtain call, that she grabbed the texter’s cell phone, walked off stage and gave it to the stage manager.
Lupone lamented that she was reconsidering future acting gigs if audience behavior could not be controlled. Most likely hearing the laughter of box office and house managers across the country, she came up with a great second act – a series of rules that theater goers should follow while being entertained.
But first, let’s ponder the idiot whose cell phone was dying. His situation begs the question: have we no respect for each other, yielding all to the electronic gadgets we carry around?
“I was thinking they were probably going to plug something in there on the set and I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal if my phone was up there too,” the 19-year old college student explained.
Really? That could be a testament to the reality of the set design by Beowulf Boritt, who mused to Vanity Fair that this realism didn’t give him a new standard, but would definitely keep him from putting a toilet on stage in future shows.
Silvestri even posed that he helped the show get some attention because his stupidity (oops, my word, not his) earned them hits all over social media and the news.
Don’t flatter yourself, punk. The show is a Tony-nominated heart-felt effort from the writers, director, actors and rest of the company who worked their asses off to perform for you. Next semester, click past the classes on getting laid and being entitled and check out “Respecting Other People’s Work” – you might be surprised at what you find. Oh, and use your Amazon Student account to get a portable phone charger. It’s what normal people do to power-up their phones when they’re not at home.
Now back to fully-charged cell phones operating in the house –
Lupone’s phone grab is something understandable by everyone who has ever performed on a stage, with a caveat. Actors dedicate their entire beings to becoming a character, working hard to memorize lines, remember blocking and choreography and become part of an ensemble that tells stories, only to be derailed by rude people who find it impossible to silence their phones and leave them in purse or pocket.
It is as distracting as someone talking aloud while a gut-wrenching 10-page soliloquy is given onstage. To the actor, this behavior tells them loud and clear that their efforts are for naught, that the audience member does not care for their performance and has absolutely no respect for them.
That is just wrong.
Now the caveat. While I understand Ms. Lupone’s frustration, I do not condone breaking that fourth wall and seizing the evidence. She is justified in being angry at that person and lashing out in revenge and punishment might be tempting, but what about the rest of the audience, the vast majority of people who hadn’t engaged in bad behavior? For them, the magical separation of the story was shattered by her actions. Frustrated or not, she must maintain that wall of separation and not engage.
Besides, only stage and house managers should confiscate phones. It’s my favorite thing to do when I’m in charge.
Lupone is a talented, experienced and seasoned actress who is known to give passionately to her craft. It would be a tremendous loss if she found something else to do with her time instead of thrilling audiences from the stage. It is her credibility on stage that gives weight to her five simple suggestions for audiences, which include….
Respect – the people around you. The theater is a place of wonder for so many, don’t take away a single moment of their enjoyment by talking or doing anything other than watching the magic behind the proscenium.
Power down – Live theater offers an escape, a liberation from our electronic leashes. Take advantage and watch the show.
Eat dinner before the show – Even though the audience section of a theater is called “the house,” it is not your kitchen or couch. Don’t bring food or drink into the theater, (bottled water the only exception) and if you MUST unwrap a candy or cough drop, do it before the curtain rises. It’s easier to hear in the absence of chewing, slurping and crinkling.
Use judgment – Don’t feel obligated to give everything you see a standing ovation. (This one prompted quite a bit of feedback from fellow thespians.) One should leap to their feet only when they are moved by the actors and writing; seeing you standing and applauding tells the actors that they have done their job of reaching into your hearts and minds and enriching your lives. Simply popping up when the applause begins lessens the value of the enthusiastic Oh-My-God-That-Changed-My-Life response of the truly thrilled.
Prepare for bliss – Come expecting to be transported. This last weekend, I saw a production of Mary Poppins and found myself surrounded by patrons who were clearly taken away by the show – the lady next to me was singing along to familiar melodies and a child behind me was excitedly telling their adult about the magic on stage (not constantly, but enough to let me know that they were enjoying every moment).
Live theater recharges the batteries of my soul and fills me with inspiration and appreciation for the talents of so many. It can move us all in ways that no status or video or message ever will.