No Place for a Cell Phone
In recent years, celebrities like Brendon Urie and Colleen Ballinger have taken to the stage and new productions based on popular films like Beetlejuice and Mean Girls have brought with them a new group of uninformed theater goers. These new audience members have not been exposed to theater etiquette and break its regulations, often texting and even taking illegal recordings of these productions. The use of cell phones during live theater performances has been rapidly growing in this new age of constant cell phone use as described in the October 6th article “Filming the Show: Pardon the Intrusion? Or Punish It?” and both theater goers and performers are fed up with the intrusion. Many performers have reached their breaking point on this issue, Lin-Manuel Miranda going as far as changing a lyric mid show reprimanding the “lady in the fourth row” recording the performance. In a changing environment, cell phone policies are getting harder and harder to enforce in the Broadway community. The increase of cell phone use and illegal bootleg recordings of Broadway performances exemplifies the need for a change in the enforcement of cell phone policies.
Though it may seem impossible to completely eradicate the use of cell phones in Broadway theaters, there are a few simple solutions that could bring back the immersive environment that once existed. To begin, there should be a strict warning of the prohibition of cell phone use before the patrons even enter the theater. Theater goers come from all walks of life and many people have their first Broadway experiences everyday. Many new patrons may have only experienced live performance in the form of concerts where recording is not only allowed, but often encouraged. Both Rhianna and Modana, performers who have held performances where cell phones were prohibited, have been caught on their cell phones during Broadway performances. Rhianna disregarded these rules herself, going as far as texting a playwright, Jeremy O. Harris, during a performance of his own play, Slave Play. Modana was also discovered texting by Lin-Manuel Miranda during a performance of his musical Hamilton and was later denied backstage access by Manuel. Texting during performances is disrespectful and distracting to performers. Informing patrons of this may well in advanced may help discourage them of this behavior. The strict cell phone use policy should be clearly stated before audience members even take step into the theater. Putting a notice in the conformation to all tickets purchased will educate patrons of cell phone policy prior to their experience and discourage them from use in the theater.
Aside form texting, it needs to be made clear that the recording of performances is not only disrespectful to performers, but illegal and cell phones seen during performances will be confiscated. I attended two separate performances of the 2017 Once on this Island revival both of which made staged the taking of an “audience member’s” ringing cell phone and throwing it into the water. This clearly displayed that the use of cell phones was prohibited and there were no incidences of cell phone use during the performances. While it is obvious that the cast would not throw someone’s cell phone in the water, the clear display of cell phone rules helped to enforce said rules. In addition, there must also be clear examples made of those who have managed to record and post bootleg performances. As someone who has been immersed in the theater community for the majority of my life, I am well informed in the happenings of this community, yet I have never seen an example of someone being punished for the recording and posting of a bootleg video. There should be a fine issued to anyone discovered to have posted a bootleg. The impending fine should be highlighted to the audience before the performance. Making an example of those continually, illegally recording performances will deter others from committing this crime.
Finally, the temptation of cell phone use should be removed completely from the experience through the use of a service like Yondr. Yondr has audience members secure phones in a pouch that locks closed upon entry of a theater and unlocks only when leaving. In the whole of things allowing free access to cell phones in the theater will ultimately result in some use of cell phones. In this digital age, checking phones continuously through the day and watching the world through a camera lens has led to a dependency on phones. Taking this access away will completely eliminate the desire to text or scroll on ones phone during a performance. In addition, the securing of phones during shows will bring an end to the flux of illegal bootlegs. The best part of seeing a live performance is being transported into a new world and becoming involved in the lives of the characters standing right before you. The locking of cell phones will make it impossible to use these devices thus creating a better theater environment for patrons and performers alike.
Cell phone use in the Theater is a growing problem that needs to be addressed. Whether it be texting or recording, cell phone use is a distraction and takes away from the immersive experience that comes with live theater. The cell phone policies currently in place should be emphasized both in and out of the theater. These policies must also be strictly enforced and publicized for effect. Finally, new actions such as the introduction of Yondr must take place to bring the theater experience to its former glory. Theater is meant to be lived in the moment, not ruined by the ding of a phone or the light of a recording phone screen. The use of cell phones during these performances ruins the experience for everyone in the theater and must be stopped.