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It has been a common theme in theatres for an incredibly long time now that some audience members are just annoying. I’ve been in the auditorium where people have been recording, taking photos, eating loudly, talking, tweeting, messaging or just browsing their phones. One woman even started shouting at someone I was at the theatre with because she asked her daughter to put her phone away next to us! She claimed that her daughter had to read an important message, when we could clearly see she was scrolling through social media since she was sat next to us. I later spoke to a cast member who knew where we were sitting immediately after we were chatting about it; we suspect that she could see the light from the phone. I have been in the audience when people have tried to take photos or videos, sometimes with flash, and the actors have noticed the lights or reflection off the camera and commented on the disruption of it on twitter. Not only is it disrespectful and distracting, but recording or photographing the performance is illegal!
Another great annoyance is the announcement of Apples’ ‘Theatre mode’ which is possibly appearing this year. Perhaps this is a rumour (I hope) and this will never come about, but the possibility of this software being standard on iPhones, one of the largest consumed phones, could be detrimental to theatre. This makes it yet harder for ushers and theatre staff to locate and sanction those who are using their phones in the theatre. I recognise that sometimes it is more disruptive for the usher to move halfway down a row to ask someone to turn their phone off for just checking it – but if an audience member is continually using their phone, recording or distracting others then I don’t feel that it is unreasonable for the staff to approach them (perhaps in the interval, if appropriate). Theatres should be cracking down on this behaviour. It’s against copyright and just annoying for other, respectful, audience members. The performers hate it too! There are many cases when actors have stopped the performance, an example of Imelda Staunton in Gypsy, who stopped her number and wouldn’t continue until the audience member had been appropriately dealt with by the staff. This introduction of software that darkens the screen and fully silences sounds will make it far harder for theatres to take appropriate action – if they even take the action now.
I wonder if staff are even doing enough in order to combat rude audience members. There comes a point where it is irresponsible for the theatre to allow people to act in a disruptive manner as it becomes a copyright issue, which could cost people thousands of pounds. Personally, I feel that theatres should be allowed to take more responsibility of disruptive audience members without being scrutinised by the media. Ultimately they would be protecting the most amount of people by doing this. It is not fair to blame the theatre for someone’s rude behaviour. Theatre is for the collective and is a live experience. The actors on stage are people and deserve the respect you would give to any of your friends if they stood up to speak in a social or work situation. You have paid money for the theatre and so have the people around you. If you want to waste that money, go for it, but it is likely that others don’t.