Should the Theater Going Experience Change with the Digital Age?
With the normalization of constant cell phone use, more and more incidents of audience members having been caught by performers using their phones during performances have been publicized. Ranging from Patti LuPone removing the phone of an audience member in 2015, to Lin-Manuel’s lyric change in January 2019, to Rihanna texting a play-write during his show only a month ago, the use of cell phones in the theater has become an issue noticed by all in the theater community. The introduction of mainstream productions such as “Mean Girls” and the casting of mainstream performers such as Brendon Urie and Colleen Ballinger, Broadway has ushered in a new group of theatergoers who are unfamiliar with theater customs. These newcomers bringing with them an influx of recordings of songs, scenes, or even entire shows appearing on the internet. The recording of live professional theater performances is not only distracting to other audience members and those performing, but illegal as well. There is only so much that ushers can do to prevent these recordings from being taken. Therefore, the question arises, what should be done about this increase in cell phone use?
There has been much debate on allowing cell phone use in theater. There are many who believe the customs of theater etiquette should no longer apply in a digital age. Many view these customs as elitist saying that live theater is something that many do not have access to and as such should be allowed access to shows through bootlegs. However, bootleg performances take out a very important aspect of these performances, the live experience. Bootleg performances are often poor quality and thus diminish the talent and vulnerability displayed in a live performance. It is important that something be done to stop these illegal videos from being taken and this “something” may have been discovered by many mainstream performers years ago. A service made popular by Dave Chappelle Yondr, a service where audience members can store their devices in a locked pouch throughout a performance, will be utilized by the Lincoln center for a set of concerts this fall. A service such as this could see the end of constant uploading of live performances to the internet, thus bringing back the intimacy and vulnerability of live performances.
In essence, live theater is meant to part from the mainstream media of film and television. Theater is intended to be experienced in the moment and bootlegs are an insult to the work of all involved in creating a production. The introduction of Yondr to theaters could bring a much needed end to the documenting of performances and enhance the theater going experience for performers and audience members alike.