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2015 August 24 - 08:51 pm

The Rude Texter and a Teachable Moment

Incident on Broadway Is an Opportunity for Civic Engagement

If, by now, you have not heard about Patti LuPone’s recent incident with a texting audience member during her performance in Douglas Carter Beane’s “Shows for Days” at Lincoln Center in New York City (see Hold the Phone, It’s Patti LuPone, NY Times, July 9, 2015 by Erik Piepenburg) you certainly will.

In summary, LuPone, fed up with a woman seated in the second row who was repeatedly texting during a matinee performance, walked into the audience and took the phone away, all without breaking character. The phone was later returned.

“I don’t know why they buy the ticket or come to the theater if they can’t let go of the phone,” she told The Times. “It’s controlling them. They can’t turn it off and can’t stop looking at it. They are truly inconsiderate, self-absorbed people who have no public manners whatsoever. I don’t know what to do anymore. I was hired as an actor, not a policeman of the audience.”

Perhaps we educators can take up the gauntlet and begin to police our future audience members for LuPone and the millions of thespians and theatre goers who would greatly appreciate it. As producer for Bergenstages, our college’s theatre company, I deliver a live curtain speech before every performance which includes asking the audience to please turn off their cell phones, even emphasizing the distortion their cellphones can cause our sound system. Usually within five to ten minutes of the performance beginning, someone is on their phone texting!

We have the opportunity to teach our young theatre patrons ‘theatre etiquette’ and, too often, have let the opportunity slip through our fingers. Many colleges offer a course in Introduction to the Theatre, a general education humanities course. As part of the pedagogy in this course we have a chapter dedicated to “The Audience” but, rarely, do any of us spend much more time other than discussing “empathy” and “aesthetic distance.”

Here is our opportunity! Let us use this lecture to include teaching these young theatre goers (and this goes for movie theaters as well) the way to behave as an audience member. Instructors could turn off the lights in the classroom, sit among your students and flip on your phone and begin texting or, worse, take a photograph!

When the lights come on, talk about what it means to be a good audience member. As the master of ceremonies in “Cabaret” says, “Leave your troubles outside, so, life is disappointing, forget about it, in here, life is beautiful.” Let us encourage our students to lose themselves in the play or musical or concert or movie for a couple of hours. Turn OFF their phones and electronic devices, don’t talk during the performance (even during the overture), be mindful of the community around them, and, if someone is creating a distraction, tell an usher or the house manager – they will gladly police their audience.

With this recent incident during “Shows for Days” and earlier that same week with an audience member in “Hand to God” recharging his phone on the set (in a fake wall outlet no less), we should take this opportunity to incorporate theater etiquette into our curriculum.

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