Filming in the Theatre: Should Audiences be Warned at the Point of Ticket Purchase?

Elizabeth Collins

  • United Kingdom Columnist

I recently attended a performance of Dawn French's '30 Million Minutes' in the West End (review can be found on my blog, AlwaysTimeForTheatre.Wordpress.Com) Upon arriving, we found notices pinned to various walls declaring that the performance was being filmed and that if we objected to our image or voice being used, we should notify staff; failure to protest would result in the non-verbal confirmation of our permission to be filmed and/or recorded and for those recordings to be freely 'distributed internationally'... I personally have no problem with this in terms of finding myself suddenly popping up on the TV when the DVD arrives, it's not all that traumatic for me. But there must have been a few who were not so happy for whatever reasons, silently or otherwise. 

There had been no indication at the point of ticket purchase that filming would be taking place at that particular performance (presumably because dates were not finalized with the production company) so my question is this: should the audience have been given advance notice of this possible disruption to their outing before parting with their money? Should they have been given the opportunity to select a different performance, not being filmed, in order to fully enjoy the experience without being conscious of their posture or the herbs in their teeth from their pre-theatre meal? 

I don't want to be a party pooper, but I do think so, yes. My reason is that it wasn't so much of a fuss for me to be filmed/ recorded as a member of the audience, but it was the fact that the huge, industrial camera (which was so big that I actually had to duck underneath it to shimmy along my row to my seat) was pointed at my particular row. With the camera so close (with another at the opposite end of the row), it acted as a constant peripheral reminder that all of my reactions could be captured on film for all of time by that panning camera.

I will admit that this made me self-conscious about my reactions, which in turn made the experience less enjoyable; I'd be enjoying a moment in the moment before thoughts of whether or not my reactions would do her performance justice invaded that moment like a niggling impending sneeze- very irksome indeed. That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the performance but rather that I think I would have been more relaxed and able to enjoy myself if the camera hadn't been there as an uninvited third party to our theatre outing! 

Personally, I bask in the escapism of going to the theatre, so I didn't really enjoy such self-awareness when I would rather have been habitually lost in the action on stage. Given the choice, I probably would have selected an alternative performance. So, what say you, dear reader? Would you like advance warning of filmed performances, or are you happy and capable of being watched with a camera's eye and still enjoy yourself as much as if it were not there at all? 

P.S: Look out for me on the DVD folks, I'm the one sitting bolt upright, smiling incessantly, you know, just in case...