Tuesday, October 4, 2011

RANT: Bad Behavior at the Theatre

Playbill Online reported recently that six teenage girls and three adult women had to be asked to leave the Paper Mill Playhouse at the September 29th performance of Disney's Newsies.  And THAT was only after a uniformed officer had to be brought in to repeat a previous request that they leave.  The altercation apparently started with someone in the party poking another patron in the back and several of the girls talking on their cell phones and "being loud and rowdy."  Upon confrontation, they said, "We have no intention of leaving."  Enter the uniformed officer.  Exit the rude patrons.

It is bad enough that six teenage girls couldn't be mature enough to control themselves in public.  But they were with three adults, who apparently (I wasn't there) condoned the behavior by refusing to leave.  Ah, the age of entitlement!  We can do what we want, when we want to.  We have rights.


The other patrons, the actors and crew and the owners of the theatre have rights, too.  The right to enjoy a live performance free of distractions (teens talking on cell phones) and physical assault (being poked).  The right to perform in a non-hostile environment (quelled only when a uniformed officer had to step in).  The right to limit the use of personal communication devices (I'm sure there were announcements, both aloud and in print).

And yet, more and more of this kind of thing happens and seems to be escalating.  Why do people feel they are entitled to do what they want when they want?  It isn't just an issue of simple politeness.  It has all to do with the idea that personal rights trump the rights of others in public situations.  This is happening everywhere, not just in the theatre.

Do you think those three adults are embarrassed by their behavior, let alone the behavior of the children - yes, children - they were responsible for?  I'm going to take a wild guess and say, "No freaking way!"  No, I'll bet they left the place, heads held high and probably laughed about it and cursed the theatre personnel the whole way home.

You can argue with me until you are blue in the face that people have the right to access to their PDAs, cell phones, etc. at all times.  I say no.  There are whole hospitals where you have to have all such devices off, not just on "silent" or "vibrate."  The signals of such items are said to interfere with the safe and accurate running of important hospital equipment.  Some hospitals jam the signal, others confiscate devices until you leave.

Interestingly, those same signals interfere with sound and communication devices on and backstage.  No such ban is in place at theatres.  Sure, you can argue, there is a big difference - life and death versus art going off without a hitch.  But the truth is, it can be dangerous to have patrons using Blackberrys, iPhones, iPads and their Blue Tooth ear thingamajigs.  Minimally, it distracts a performer and throws him/her off a little.  More dangerously, the signals these things give off interfere with headsets that stage managers and scenery movers use.  Imagine what could happen in the dark when a cue can't be heard or is misheard.  People can (and have) gotten hurt during such malfunctions.  The brightness of cellphones during texting in an otherwise dark theatre can throw off a dancer or actor causing them to fall, drop a partner, etc.  Injuries - from a bruise to a broken bone to a career-ending muscle tear - are sure to occur in those situations.

And all because an individual feels he or she has the right to full access to texting and phone calls.  I know there are extreme cases where a person may need to be contacted in an emergency.  Like a doctor.  Someone with a dying family member.  A pregnant wife on the verge of giving birth.  Maybe you are next on the list for a donor organ.  Legitimate reasons to be available 24/7.  In the old days, doctors left their name and seat number with the box office, and if they were needed, a call to the B.O. was made and an usher discreetly got the doctor from his seat.  Why can't that still happen?

But in all those other cases I listed, and probably hundreds more, I have to ask: What the hell are you doing at a show when the lives of people you love hang in the balance?? 

Solution: Go home and Tweet your fingers off while you take care of them.  But let me watch Newsies in peace.

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  1. The worst cases I've experienced in recent memory have all involved people arriving late to a performance. I don't think anyone should ever be seated while a performance is in progress. It is not right to even slightly inconvenience people who got to the theater on time for the sake of people who did not.

  2. When I was at Anything Goes a couple of weeks ago, a woman a couple rows in front of me took a picture of the curtain. An usher came up to her immediately and told her that photography wasn't allowed. So of course at the curtain call, this same woman whips out her camera and snaps a couple of pictures. I couldn't believe it. (Well, yes I could, sadly!) And this was someone who was older, well-dressed. Obviously she felt that the rules didn't apply to her! (And I actually don't think there's a problem taking a picture of the show curtain but it's a slippery slope. If you allow it, people won't stop there!)

  3. KDogg, I couldn't agree more! I'm thinking of a show we saw where we had to get up three times - and refusing to move the third time!

    Esther - a slippery slope, indeed. Of course, if it were my design, I'd say buy a program if you want official pictures of my work. A win-win: copyright money for me, professional quality photos for you!



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