Audiences behaving badly

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It happened again on Sunday.

During an intensely delicate — and totally silent — moment in the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s production of “Rabbit Hole,” an audience member opted to unwrap a piece of candy. Not a get-it-over-with unwrapping, this process took what seemed like a minute. And the fact that the performance was in the intimate upper stage — without microphones — made the moment even more awkward and distracting. Everyone in the theater, including the actors, were no doubt aware of it.

Over at the Denver Post, critic John Moore discusses the problem, noting a incident in England where “a woman’s cellphone went off for a third time, Richard Griffiths (you know him as Harry Potter’s Uncle Vernon) stopped the play midscene and told the woman to get out. ‘The 750 people here would be fully justified in suing you for ruining their afternoon,’ Griffiths said, to a standing ovation.”

Similarly, many have probably heard what happened during the second-to-last performance of “Gypsy” on Broadway when Patti LuPone literally stopped the show to lash out at a bozo taking a flash photo. (If you haven’t heard it, check it out here.) LuPone herself made light of the moment in her concert at Clowes Hall last Friday when she took out her own camera to snap members of the audience, and herself, while singing “The Way You Look Tonight.”

One of the beauties of live arts and entertainment is the communal atmosphere. We are, literally, in it together. While minor distractions are part of the deal, there seems to be an increase in the belief that the other people around you don’t matter. During the intermission of “Moving Out” I turned to the woman behind me and, I thought, very politely, told a woman that I could hear her conversation all through the first act and that I’d appreciated if she could wait until after the show to discuss it. She seemed shocked, asking the people around her if she had been loud. They, of course, said she hadn’t which, for this woman, proved her case and made me somehow wrong.

And there’s more. Taking a cell phone call in the theater is awful, yes, but checking your text messages or even lighting up your phone to see who just called is annoying as well. And it’s something that’s happening more and more often.

Not just annoying. Such moments pull one out of the experience you’ve come to the theater to have. They violate the very reason for being there. And they piss me off.

How about you? Care to share any particularly bad experiences you’ve had due to other audience members behaving badly?

What do you think the role of the presenter should be to deal with such behavior? Is it more distracting to confront violators during a show? Should the rules be different for a concert vs. a play? And is anyone else in favor of wiring seats for a little shock to violators?

Finally, were LuPone and Griffiths right in taking matters into their own hands?

Your thoughts?

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