Theatre Etiquette Dilemmas: The War Against Smartphones

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, we welcome you to our performance of Oklahoma. Please remember that any recording of this performance, either through video or photograph is strictly prohibited. Also note that mobile phones should be turned off, and not to silent. Should you be required to be contactable during the performance, please talk to our front-of-house staff, who will gladly mind your phone, and retrieve you in the case of a call. Thank you – we hope you enjoy the show!”

How many times have you as an audience member, actor, musician, stagehand, or theatre administrator heard this seemingly simple announcement? Possibly too many times to count. We tune it out and idly turn our phones to silent (or airplane mode) and toss them back in our purse/pocket/coat until intermission. We ignore the “turned off” instruction knowing that our phone would never be the one to go off in the middle of a performance. Preposterous!

But what if it did?

If you’ve ever been on both sides of the coin – as an audience member and also as a performer – you likely know how terrible it is to be mid-performance and hear the dreaded sound of that standard iPhone ringtone. This particular smartphone and theatre etiquette dilemma has been in existence for a while but has recently reached new heights. In fact, cellphones in the theatre have been quite the hot topic of conversation this summer. Not sure what I’m talking about? Check out these links:

These are just three high-profile incidences that underscore the challenges of new technology in the theatre. What’s a performer to do? How is theatre management supposed to handle these challenging situations?

Patti LuPone and Benedict Cumberbatch both eloquently summed up the challenges of being a performer in competition with smartphones, as well as the importance of simply turning them off when you enter the theatre.

“We work hard on stage to create a world that is being totally destroyed by a few, rude, self-absorbed and inconsiderate audience members who are controlled by their phones. They cannot put them down. When a phone goes off or when a LED screen can be seen in the dark it ruins the experience for everyone else – the majority of the audience at that performance and the actors on stage. I am so defeated by this issue that I seriously question whether I want to work on stage anymore. Now I’m putting battle gear on over my costume to marshal the audience as well as perform.” – Patti LuPone

“I could see a red light in about the third row on the right and it’s mortifying. There’s nothing that’s less enjoyable or supportive as an actor on stage experiencing than that. I can’t give you what I want to give you, which is a live performance that you’ll remember, hopefully, in your minds and brains whether it’s good, bad or indifferent, rather than on your phones.” – Benedict Cumberbatch

Truer words have never been spoken. As performers we want to immerse you in our story, we work so hard to bring this “thing” to life – to have it living and breathing for you. We want to share this incredible experience with you because we know that it’s special, magical and because we believe deeply in the transformative power of live story-telling.

Please, please turn off your cell phone and enjoy the show.

Has your venue struggled with implementing cell phone and technology theatre etiquette? Do you have any great tips that have helped your organization find success in lessening (or eliminating) the issue in your own theatre? Please share your thoughts in the comments below! 

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