Friday, July 10, 2015

Theatre Manners Matter

I've been writing Lovin' the Alien posts for more than four years now. The question I hear most often is "What does your daughter say about it?" The answer is ... not much. 

But, it's a legitimate query. After all, I'm comparing her to an extraterrestrial right in the title. And, most posts are the blogging equivalent of wringing my hands. As she is ever quick to point out, my daughter is one of the good kids. But teenagers, any teenagers, are easy targets.

So, I think I'll take this particular opportunity to praise an attribute of hers of which I am very proud.

My daughter has excellent theatre manners.

We began seeing shows together when she was a toddler. These were short, silly affairs, full of rhymes and puppets (or rhyming puppets). When she was about three, we graduated to 45-minute versions of classic fairy tales: Pinocchio, Cinderella, The Three Bears. We were lucky to have a regional theatre nearby and every summer they hosted a children's musical series.

For my daughter's first Broadway show, my mother took us to see Beauty and the Beast. We sat in the first row of the mezzanine and my daughter was mesmerized. About a year later, we went to Lion King. I can't count how many shows we've seen together since. 

From the earliest age, my daughter knew not to talk or leave her seat or rattle candy wrappers. And, to this day, theatres are among the few places (very few places) where she knows better than to take out her phone. No selfies, no texting, no tweeting, no Snapchat, no Facebook. Live performance affords more respect than that. And, that's true whether we're at a comped event or we've paid through the nose.

I wish I could say that all audience members were as etiquette-abiding. Even today's so-called "grownups" seem to put the urgency of their mobile lives ahead of the business we call show.

Take, for example, a recent incident on the great white way. At a July 2nd performance of Hand of God, actors and audience members alike were rendered speechless when a theatregoer crawled up onstage to plug his phone in. Not only was his behavior inappropriate, it was ineffective. The outlet wasn't real. Duh.

Just a few days later, Broadway diva Patti Lupone made her feelings about in-theatre cell phone use abundantly clear. She actually stopped a scene and snatched a phone out of the hands of a texting patron. She issued a statement, explaining:
“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.”

The guy with the phone isn't the only audience member Lupone has called out. Just ask the person who once tried to take pictures during a performance of Gypsy. Basically, you don't want to cross Patti. (Didn't any of these people see Evita? Sheesh!)

Grande dames on the other side of the pond have been known to throw theatrical hissy fits as well. In the West End, Helen Mirren left a performance of The Audience to scold people who were drumming outside the theatre. We have to assume her outrage and arguments were even more convincing sine she was still in costume as HRM Elizabeth Regina.

Younger artists can be just as (justifiably) intolerant when faced with theatre rudeness. The amazing Lin-Manuel Miranda noticed a famous audience member (the material girl herself) texting during an off-Broadway performance of Hamilton this past spring. He left word that she was not welcome backstage after the show. 

And, he tweeted about it to his 65,000 followers.

I just hope none of them were in the audience when they read it.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at

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