Thank You Patti LuPone, But You Accomplished Nothing

Chris Peterson

Audience etiquette has been a hot topic on Broadway this week with the Hand to God phone charger incident, which, if you ask me, was either a moment of drunken buffoonery or the greatest inside job to boost publicity for a non-Tony winning show I've ever seen. 

But this morning, news broke that during a performance of Shows for Days yesterday Patti LuPone saw an audience member was texting. In response, Lupone grabbed the cell phone and took it backstage with her. 

This isn't the first time that LuPone has gone off an a audience member for cell phone usage. Interestingly enough, while we get much joy out of hearing this, the only reason we're hearing it is because someone else in the audience was audio recording the show on their cell phone. 

And it's not just casual audience members who are being scolded either. It was widley reported that the reason why Madonna wasn't allowed backstage after Hamilton was because of her endless texting during the show. 

While LuPone's act of technology defiance will serve as another reason why we, theatre folks, love her as much as we do, it accomplished very little in curbing a growing negative aspect of seeing live theatre. And her statement afterwards will only be looked at as whining from a spoiled performer(which it actually kind of did) unless theater managers start taking this issue more seriously. 

I will never understand the leniency that theaters will show disruptive audience members. I've seen ushers cursed at without the guilty party being thrown out of the venue. I've seen cellphones, talkers, etc, without so much as a dirty glance from the house staff. I've spoken to some ushers about this in the past and the common response is, "Well there's not much we can do."

But see, there is. 

In case you didn't know, in New York City, it's actually been illegal to use a cell phone during a live theatrical performance since 2003. 

The law states, in part, "No person shall use a mobile telephone in a place of public performance while a theatrical, musical, dance, motion picture, lecture or other similar performance is taking place." It was introduced by City Councilman Phil Reed, who at the time represented the Eighth District of Manhattan, and was backed by 20 other Council members. Though Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the bill at the time, calling it unenforceable, his veto was overridden by a Council vote of 38 to 5 on Feb. 13, 2003. The law went into effect 60 days later.

Now, did any of you reading this, know it was illegal to use a cell phone in these situations? Probably not. And the reason is, this law is never mentioned or enforced when going to see a Broadway show nowadays. Instead, you'll usually hear a polite request to turn off your phone. However when flying on the plane, we know full well not to tamper with the smoke alarm in the bathroom because it's against FAA regulations with punishments including steep fines and possibly jail time. Why? Because it's mentioned explicitly before a flight. 

If theater management teams don't make this point clear in the front of house announcement or enforce the law after the show begins, then it's their own fault if this issue keeps happening. 

The fault also lies with the Broadway producing team that these type of rude people are in the audience to begin with. With the prices of tickets the way they are, you typically aren't going to find true "theatre fans" or devotees in the front rows. The same could be said for most sporting events. This is why you typically see many in the front row, resting their drinks or their Playbills on the stage or even sitting on it (happens almost every time I see a show), something that real theatre fans would NEVER do. 

So what can be done to prevent this from happening in the future? Well you can't block cell phone signals in a public space, that's also against the law. So the only solution is to either make it explicitly clear in the front of house announcement or enforce the law during the show and throw out every cell phone user. But seeing how these shows rely on the revenue from the clientele who are usually guilty of these offenses, don't expect the latter. 

The best solution right now? Hire Patti LuPone to patrol your audience.