Wednesday, November 30, 2011

OMG indeed

Michael Hawke posted a link to an article about the new Tateuchi Center being built in Washington state and its announced policy to allow cell phone use for texting and tweeting during live performances (note: the policy still restricts phone calls). The responses to his post were understandably reactionary – the move was called dumb, idiotic, etc. Personally, I think it’s smart and visionary.

Look: I spent a chunk of my life resisting new technologies that seemed ridiculous to me at the time. More than 20 years ago, I fought moving to a “windows” based computer system at my work, wondering why anyone would want to do more than one task on their computer at once. Shortly thereafter, I put off adopting an email system, again not grasping what the benefit of text-based communication system would be given that so few people I knew could even type. Ever since these first experiences, I’ve flipped completely. New technologies are consistently reshaping our lives whether we like it or not. Resistance is futile.

A key line in the Tateuchi Center article is this: “this isn't giving in as much as moving on.” I understand that cell phone use in certain contexts can be incredibly obnoxious, and you can ask my teenage daughters about how I’ve railed at them about this at various times. And I’ve had enough infuriating experiences (some of which I’ve detailed in this space) at live shows with inconsiderate patrons to write a book about it.

But I have to be honest: I have texted during plays. As often as I’ve shot accusatory glares at others for talking loudly during a show, I’ve also been that guy trying to get a last text out before the lights go down at the start of the second act. I keep my phone with me nearly all the time and, between the demands of my work and home life, have found the near constant state of engagement valuable.

I am getting very close to 50 years old. Planners and theater professionals need to realize that, if this state of cell phone engagement is not uncommon in someone my age, it’s the absolute norm for those in their 20s and 30s. As the article says, "There's an inevitability to evolving cultural norms.” Those norms now involve cell phones as a vital and persistent aspect of life.

Embracing these changes isn’t just an issue of management for live theater; it’s an issue of survival. Among the broader population, live theater still sits near the bottom of the totem pole of cultural relevance these days. Audiences are aging, the image of “a night at the theater” as a special event that old people get dressed up for (and spend too much money on) persists.

Shows written for the stage have consistently evolved to conform to the tastes of new audiences – incorporating everything from rock music to adult themes to irony over the decades. If the content of theater has changed, doesn’t it make sense that the actual theater experience should evolve as well?


Susie said...

Over Thanksgiving in NYC I was lucky enough to see "Sleep No More," the utterly cool, environmental, wordless version of Macbeth. Audience members (who run around following actors) are cautioned to use no lights, whether from phones or anything else. The environment was gorgeously decorated, down to the last details; beautifully lit; with an incredible sound design. Things were dark, and it would have been nice to be able to use one's phone light to get around. But it would have screwed up the fantastic atmosphere created. I think this is true of any performance. And I stand by what I said in my comment on Michael's post: I'll take my business somewhere else, somewhere where the theater artists' effort to create an atmosphere for me is respected. Those who want the light from texts--well, I won't be where they are.

Leann said...

"Would you like a seat in texting or no texting", that's what the box office will be asking next.

Augustin said...

I don't truly know where I fall here. If a theatre insists on allowing texts as the article describes, then I suppose you get what you pay for. If a theatre allows texting, though, what about the audience members who don't want to be bothered by the clicking and lights next to them? I know I would snatch somebody's phone til intermission if I paid a hundred bucks of hear them tweeting. I do agree that at this point it is probably going to be inevitable that electronic media make it into the houses. It will all be a matter of how we handle it as professionals, artists, and fellow audience members. Maybe a texting section?

Anonymous said...

It's rude. A lot of work goes into a show, a lot of man hours, and it shows a lack of respect for the actors, crew, director, writer, musicians, etc.
Would you sit and text in front of your financial advisor while he was using his hard earned knowledge to help you?
Would you sit and text in front of your doctor while he was explaining your illness to you?

You respect these folks and their professions. And it should be mutual.
Those on stage respect their audiences and expect them to play along and keep up. The audience should respect the actors and the work they have put into a show and make the attempt to follow the action.
Text all you want to prior to the show and at intermission, but if you can't pry that instrument out of your hand for 45 mins to an hour, then please don't go to any shows I might be attending.

Jason M. said...

This may sound incredibly selfish, but as an actor, and also a life-long patron of the theater (audience member), I have to say that if I am going to get up in front of you and pour my soul out and entertain you, you better darn-well watch what I'm doing. Why am I up there working hard if you don't care? And frankly, it IS distracting to see lights blinking and hear bells, whistles and rap music emminating from cell phones at the most intimate moments in a play. If you are expecting your mother to die, or some other life-changing emergency, then put the phone on vibrate and excuse yourself from the theater. I text just as much as anyone else and am all for technology and advances in the world - but when I go to see live art on stage with people performing, I completely turn my phone off and only check it at intermission and after the show is completely over. It is, in my opinion, a sign of disrespect to the performers (and fellow audience members), if someone cannot make it through 2 hours without touching their phone while people are trying to give you what you've paid lots of money for. I don't agree with it at movies, either. However at movies, the actors on screen cannot hear or see you.

Dave, this is, in no way a direct attack on you or your choices to text - I use "you" as a collective, rather than just you, Dave :) I think tweeting and Facebooking about a show is great word of mouth for shows and should absolutely be encouraged - but it should occur at intermission or when you get home. I know people have busy, important lives, need to keep track of their children, hear from doctors and be reachable. But it raises this question:

What did we do before cell phones?

The answer is one that everyone knows.

Good topic for conversation, Dave. Now hand over the phone and enjoy the show ;)

Dave T said...

First off, I LOVE this conversation! Thanks to everyone who has contributed and to those who will. I don't / won't consider anything written as a direct attack on me; I'm very curious about people's thoughts on this.

I think it's interesting that a couple people have mentioned a texting or no texting section. I wouldn't be surprised if that becomes a reality.

As far as rudeness / respect toward those who are involved in a show: how many times have you seen people sleeping through shows? Is that showing respect? Isn't that rude? Do they ban sleeping in shows, 'cause if they do, then lots of folks are going to get kicked out.

I have a dual perspective on this: there is theater as art and theater as commodity. Appreciating it as art, I totally understand people wanting it respected and god knows I want people to shut the heck up so I can hear dialogue when I'm at a show.

As a commodity, however, theater is loosing out to other entertainment experiences that are interactive (e.g., video games). People expect interactivity; they like it. I spent last night watching Glee on the DVR, the Duke basketball game live streaming on my computer, and was writing on Facebook at the same time. Given the choice of an evening at the theater where you have to dress up, be quiet and sit still, more people are opting for entertainment that doesn't strap them in quite so tightly.

Also, please understand, I am writing from the perspective of someone who LOVES theater and wants it to thrive. However, for years I've heard the sad refrain of people who say that young people aren't going to the theater any more, but then issues like this come up and the habits of younger audiences are often dismissed as not being even worth considering. And we wonder why the young people aren't coming?

Jason M. said...

There is no need for a texting section. There shouldn't HAVE to be one. So instead of 10 blue lights scattered throughout the theater, we would have a giant, distracting clump to glare at and be bothered by? Ridiculous.

We wonder why children and young people don't go to the theater anymore? It's because the arts are not taught or cultivated at home or by our public schools. I grew up with artistic parents who took their children to see live plays, the symphony and other cultural events. It's CULTURE. You sit in a seat quietly and pay attention and get enlightened and entertained by art. We have, as a society, been damaged by television, reality shows and "give it to me fast" marketing and mentality. If you want your people to come to the theater, you have to begin early by teaching them what the history is behind theater and teach them WHY texting is rude and disrespectful. It all begins with what we learn and how we are raised. Call me spoiled, but I was taught that theater was a special, unique and sacred experience. To this day, I still hold that truth and of I'm ever lucky enough to have kids (I have a niece coming March!), they will learn what I learned - respect for art.

debra wagoner said...

I have to say no to texting. Sleeping, well, if you can't help yourself then, it's a physical and or emotional response to what you are watching. Do what you have to do. Jason has a point. Even coming from a poor, rural background, I learned about sitting still and paying attention to what was being presented to me for at least a couple of hours. To appreciate and absorb. It is about CULTURE. And not having the attention span of a gnat. And good manners. And courtesy to the people sitting around you. I've sat close to sleepers, and in their defense, they usually are not able to help their tiredness due to age issues. Texting is a choice. And it's a rude one. When the lights go down in the house, and the show begins, then it's time to--omg--turn your attention to the stage please. It's frightening to me to think of a society of people who can never do ANYTHING one thing at a time. Sometimes, turning off the world outside is like taking a vacation. Why else spend the money on a theatre ticket?

mmmhawke said...

I don't care what anyone does until it effects me - and the lights from texting take me out of the moment (blame ADD). I am a technology early adopter and a geek when it comes to the latest gadget, but I think it's impolite when people text (or talk) in a darkened theater.

I also have to say that the use of any gadget in a backstage area is dangerous. Behind the scenes can be dangerous when one is paying attention much less when one is not due to distraction from a cellphone and/or texting. I have been fortunate enough to be a number of shows with large cast of younger folk, and on numerous occasions I have seen dangerous near-misses from distraction.

I really appreciate this dialogue, because I would like to understand the other point of view.


Dave T said...

I definitely hear what you guys are saying, Jason and Debra. My fuming at my daughters has often been about them apparently not being able to get through a 30 minute meal without consulting with their phones, let alone a two-hour show.

But while part of me wants to be swayed by what you're saying, ultimately I'm not. For one, the rudest and most distracting behavior I've ever witnessed at the theater has not been the kids with their phones. It's folks of all ages simply talking, loudly or persistently. I don't think that behavior necessarily has to do with culture but just simple rudeness or cluelessness. No matter what you do, you can't prevent that.

However, while you can't manage that rudeness, you CAN manage cell phone use. Texters could be secluded in the balcony or in the back row of the theater where their activity isn't so distracting. Light-inhibiting screens could be developed or handed out.

Also, my work has trained me over the years not to be wrapped up in how people SHOULD behave but to compensate for how they actually do behave (it'd be great if computer users only did the things I expect them to do, but they hardly ever do!) Sure, people should sit and be quiet and behave. But they don't. (I'll add that millions of people SHOULD go to the theater more...but they don't.) The bottom line is if patrons feel uncomfortable or chastised or unwelcome for the ways they like to behave, they just don't go to the theater.

You can take a cavalier attitude toward losing those customers but I contend that theaters that do are shooting themselves in the foot. And given that many companies are on their last leg, shooting feet is the last thing they want to be doing...

Dave T said...

I'll also make one more reference to this line in the article: "this isn't giving in as much as moving on." I think this echos what I'm saying about dealing with people's behavior versus just wagging a finger at people who don't behave the way you think they should.

A tangentially related analogy: theaters ran on the subscription model for decades. Their bread and butter was getting people to buy a whole season's worth of tickets. When people stopped buying subscriptions, many companies futilely tried various ways to bolster subscriptions. Other companies adapted and found ways to manage their finances without such a great dependence on subscriptions. Guess which ones survived?

Live theater audiences are aging/dying. Everyone has a cell phone today. Is the only way to effectively deal with this using more strident messages during the curtain speech?

Susie said...

Really, I don't think that allowing texting is going to bring a bunch of young people into theater audiences. Sorry. I don't think they've been staying away because they're not allowed to text.

Augustin said...

Dave referred to the "moving on" bit...I wish that there were some under-twenties in this dialogue. It would be fascinating to hear their takes, since they are the audiences we hope to wrangle as we become the old, sleepy audience. They are the ones who have been texting since (it hurts me to say this) they were eight and nine years old. It is a part of their lives in a way I don't think we can entirely grasp, much like our various habits we had when we were 17 and 18 that our elders could not make peace with: teasing hair, chewing gum, smoking...are we becoming those curmudgeonly old folks, or are they seriously just rude balls of ADD? Or both?

Jason M. said...

Ok, so let's raise another point.

Would anyone be ok with actors texting backstage or even onstage during a performance? If the audience is allowed to do it, would you mind seeing someone on stage doing it during the context of a show? The actors are normal people, too, right? They enjoy texting. Maybe they get bored during a scene, and want to text their friend who came to see them. That's cool, right?

Dave, it's not pointing fingers and saying "This is how you should behave." But the mentality of accepting something for how it is and moving on is really a code for "I'm too lazy to open my mouth and take a stand for what's RIGHT." My aunt has recently re-entered the public school system, which she taught in Henrico County for over 20 years. She's enjoying being a substitute teacher, but at one particular school, she has mentioned how she doesn't want to go back there again because the teachers and administration have all given up - given up on the system, and the kids. The kids are allowed to behave how they want, and say/do what they choose. The teachers don't/choose not to say anything for fear of their jobs, and because they're too lazy to stand up and say, "You know what? This is NOT how we behave. This is NOT how we talk to others." The same thing should hold true to having a little culture and class in our lives.

Law enforcement and government put rules in place to protect people and make sure that certain things are enjoyable for ALL people. If the time-honored tradition of being able to enjoy a night at the theater involves no cell phones (and how about this one - no eating popcorn, Goobers, and candy - this is NOT a movie theater!! - wait till intermission, folks!), then enforce the rule. It's really that simple. If someone is texting or talking, evict them. Glare at them. Physically reach over, and take their phone away. Tickle them. Lick their face. Do SOMETHING. Don't just shrug your shoulders and say "Oh well - that's the way it is today!"

It doesn't HAVE to be this way.

@Susie, I agree that allowing texting is not going to bring young people to the theater. As I stated before, an appreciation for art has to begin at a young age. By the time you're 10 years old, you're already beginning to get set in your ways and your thought patterns. Introducing someone to the magic of theater at any age? YES, it can be life-changing. But for a good majority of people, especially in today's cold, "let's just get by and survive" world, if they don't get exposed to it early on, they won't like it - EVER. It's not seen as "cool." As a child, one of my favorite days every year was when Theatre IV would bring a tour to my elementary school. I used to go home so elated from that magical experience of seeing their shows. Now, I wonder how many kids even know what it is they're seeing, and how valuable it is. Do they appreciate it? It's very hard to say.

I've rambled on probably too much on this topic, but it's one I'm quite passionate about, so I hope everyone reading will forgive my vomitorious (yes, I made that word up) spewing of my thoughts. Those that know me I hold by tradition and sentiment quite strongly. The passion and soul of art flows through my body at a rapid speed, and it's what I love to do, and what I appreciate in my life. And I really don't want to see the tradition of going to a great cultural event ruined for everyone else, just because a select group of people can't take their thumbs off technology for 2 hours.

Now if you'll excuse me...I need to answer this text message from Stephen Sondheim.

eraserhead said...

If I had my druthers, everyone would sit still in a darkened theater and the traditional "please turn off all electronic devices" speech wouldn't even be necessary.

Unfortunately, electronic devices are now almost another appendage on our bodies. They're here to stay. We have to get over it.

My interest is how this will impact the art. Will there be two different types of theater experiences offered--old style and contemporary? Will the classics be updated by enterprising directors to include some sort of electronic interaction--Juliet changing her Facebook status?

What about the plays still to be written? Will our playrights be creating a new genre of live theatre that will be a hybrid of stage, video game, personal communication device? Will young people gravitate toward that new form because it speaks to their lifestyle?

I'm not particularly optimistic about the future of theatre as we generally know it today, but as long as there are talented artists with vision and passion, it will exist for those that seek it out.

Recalculating . . . .

Anonymous said...

So there I was in the audience for Book of Mormon ---- Saturday night ---- big night --- and, yes, all doing the early part of the first act, the middle aged woman in front of me was continually texting-- the light shimmering up like the baby Jesus was in her lap--- I am not afraid to tell people to stop -- and I did and she did---But I was going to begin my point by saying that insead of theaters accomodating such conduct, we should create stuff on stage that demands out attention-- that is the challenge---- but some people will never learn --- no matter how old and no matter what is going up on stage---- I mean, it was the Book of Mormon--- they were singing about scabies and babies and AIDs and incest and she was distracted! (her texting must not have been important, because she stopped when I asked her and she did not leave to go to the lobby)

Having an open policy about texting and tweeting will not bring more people to the theatre ---- absolutely not----- so don't allow it---

Case in point ---- we don't have as many adult movies these days like we did in the 70s because that audience (myself included) stays away and one reason we stay away is out of fear of having to sit next to a couple engaged in conversation ---- its just not worth it.

If texting and tweeting is permitted, we will see more theatre as a commodity and much less as an art form---- I can't imagine someone texting during the third act of The Dolls House--- if it is done well---- but if that conduct were allowed, I, and others, will just stay away and The Doll Houses of the future will be harder to find ----

Chris Dunn

Dave T said...

Augustin, I agree it would be interesting to get the view from under-20s. Even more interesting to me would be to get the perspective of people who don't go to the theater (they obviously aren't going to be following this blog). What keeps them away?

I also think it'd be interesting to get the perspective of someone like the person Chris encountered. Why were you texting during the whole show? Was it something important and compelling or just because you are used to texting wherever you go?

Personal anecdote: when I saw Spider-Man on Broadway, I texted my wife several times during the show -- because sharing how bad the show was made the experience more enjoyable. Lump me among the uncultured and rude, I guess.

Susie, I think you may be right that intolerance around texting is not keeping kids away. But I think that's because there are so many OTHER reasons that rank above texting intolerance that keep kids out of theaters. I do know that the number of complaints I've heard from people about texting during shows has risen dramatically. Probably 5 people complained to me about other audience members texting during the RTCC awards this past year.

I appreciate your passion, Mr. Marks, but the issue of actors texting on stage doesn't translate. Actors are doing a job; audience members are paying to see them do that job. I text at restaurants all the time. I don't want my waiter or waitress texting while they're taking my order. I also don't really care if they text when they aren't working (or if actors text offstage) as long as it doesn't affect the job they're doing.

I'm also having trouble with your "standing up for what is right" stand. This isn't an issue of segregation or racial profiling. It's an issue of what people want to do on a Saturday night. And I just know that there are literally millions of potential theater lovers out there who, when it comes to considering what to do on a Saturday night, going to see live theater isn't last on their list -- because it isn't even ON their list. Perhaps a more open policy about texting won't change that. But I think there has to be a more constructive way of confronting the issue than just railing against it.

In the meantime, I won't be surprised if more theaters go the way of the Washington one. And I guess we'll all see what the ultimate outcome is.

Anonymous said...

Well, Dave, I'm glad that texting during Spider Man made the show more enjoyable for you- -- because, really, that is all that matters isn't it?

But if I were sitting next to you or behind you--- I would have asked you to stop--- (I am cursed with having an abnormally wide peripheral vision - so I see everything) and if you did not --- I would have gone to theatre management--- I've done it and will do it again.
And I know that many people are not willing to ask a person to stop such distracting conduct, ---- so just because no one may have said anything to you that night doesn't mean it was not an unwanted distraction---

This issue really torques my jaw because the rise of texting, talking and similar distracting behavior has taken away the expected anticipation of enjoyment I had of being in a darkened hall and being swept away and put into another world by what was on stage or on the screen.

Jason M. said...

I have much more to say, however, I think my 15 minutes of fame are up, and I shall throw in the towel for fear of all the rolling eyes I may be getting from various sources in cyber-land. I'm appreciative of a hearty debate, and thank you for allowing me to post my thoughts. Perhaps we can retort sometime in person :)

Dave T said...

I know I'm not swaying anybody on this issue but I can't help but keep plugging away! Check out this:
SFArts "Pluggers" Program

Announcement of Pluggers program

Most interesting paragraph to me:

We’re taught that theatre is a revered place where you come, sit, watch, and applaud. Interaction is not allowed or encouraged. So when you create something that breaks down a wall, people are going to jump up and say, “Not in my backyard!” Here’s the bottom line…the Playhouse Pluggers program is not going to end the world or change theatre as we know it. This program will not cause thousands to run out and start tweeting during Romeo & Juliet.

Theatre is about change…about evolution. The basic nature of theatre requires us to adapt to the new, or else we would be going to see plays by Euripides on Broadway. Theatre is a shared experience and this program is just a way to let the theatergoer have voice in the theatre going experience by sharing their thoughts. That’s’s a very simple concept.

Anonymous said...

Since I'm paying to see a show, maybe I should smoke because it will make the evening much more enjoyable and/or tolerable? One might say smoke hurts the health of a non smoker and texting does not but why does it have to be to that extreme? Texting is definitely distracting and rude. Principally speaking, if what your doing is bothering another paying patron, you are in the wrong.

debra wagoner said...

Well. I know I can't stop the tidal wave of progress. Though it goes against everything I was taught. As a child, as a student of theatre, as a young actor. And it goes against everything I believe in. When I read a book, or go to a movie, or to see a live performance I go to get away from phones and e mails and real life in general. It's completely beyond my understanding why people can't turn off and tune in to something else for a couple of hours. I think they would be so glad if they did. That has been and always will be the magic of the experience for me. If someone is texting and tweeting through out the whole thing, then why are they even there? They are not watching. They are not PRESENT. I'll go on doing what I do for whoever wants to come and enjoy. I don't know how to do anything else. But it breaks my heart. It really does. And as for actors texting backstage during performances--the comment Michael Hawke made--are you kidding me? Talk about not focusing while you're at work! Sorry I missed my cue/entrance, I was texting.Or we hear about a big piece of scenery falling on someone because they were standing backstage at the wrong time with their stupid cell phone out--tweeting about what a diva so and so is. Dangerous and stupid. Come on people.

Susie said...

In some recent productions here and elsewhere interaction has been encouraged. Texting is not interaction, as far as I can see. Also, I do not agree that "theater is about change...about evolution." Evolution and change happen in theater as in everything else, but evolution and change are not what theater is about. I'm pretty sure it's about looking at human experience in a heightened, artistic way.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Jason was/is "railing" against anything, Dave. His points are quite valid and he presented his facts in a truthful manner. You claim the whole actor texting on stage doesn't translate because they're there to do a job. Well, guess what? So are we, the audience. Our job is to pay attention and give these people who have worked very hard to put together something that is supposed to be "transient" and "life-changing" your respect and admiration, even if we hate it. Theater IS paticpatory and interactive. Have you ever gone to see a comedy, and listened to the wave of laughter go through a house? The actors on stage react to that energy, to that laughter - they have to often wait until the audience is done laughing or applauding - they thrive and grow off that energy. If the audience doesn't laugh as much or perhaps they don't clap after a song, the energy amongst the cast can sometimes change. It's give and take - and the audience has to give just as much as the actors do.

I will never understand the cell phone usage during the show thing, NEVER. You paid the money, you wanted/had to see the show - so WATCH IT and keep your hand off the cell phone. It's rude, disrespectful, and it indicates a clear lack of self-control. There really is no black or white with this matter. Actors who care about their craft really hold and regard the theater as a temple and a scared place. It is a shame that the audiences don't see it in the same regard.

Susie, I agree with your comment - theater is not about evolution and change - only hoighty-toighty, self-righteous actors/directors feel that way. It's entertainment, folks. We're not curing cancer. It's about making people smile, laugh, cry, think - the human experience, told on stage. Everyone should be able to enjoy it, and if you can't enjoy it without texting, then stay home. Someone else with more respect will come to the theater in your place.

This is QUITE a conversation we all have going here, ain't it?

Anonymous said...

Dave, what's the record for most comments? Is this the record? :)

Melinda Skinner said...

I don't usually leave comments, and I have been using new technology almost as soon as it comes out since the early 80s... so I'm not a troglodyte. If people cannot do without their texting and tweeting for the duration of a performance, they should stay home. It annoys the hell out of me to see that light go on. The person is obviously not into the concert/play/reading/whatever. He/she should leave the theater. Adults-- like children-- need to be taught manners. Texting and tweeting is just plain rude... to everyone else in the vicinity. Rant over.

Stephen S. said...

As a former producer, I believe the show should decide if cell phone usage is appropriate. Not the theater architect. For some shows, like "Rock of Ages", it's ok to use your cell phone, even encouraged as they ask you to hold it up in place of a lighter. But in most shows, it is not appropriate as the producers try very hard to control the focus of the audience by hiring lighting designers and directors to stage the show with intelligence and use craft to streamline the audience's experience. The light of 1 person's cell phone often destroys that experience for everyone behind that person. There is a time and place for all actions and people need to act appropriately when others are affected by his or her actions.

Dave T said...

I believe the biggest influx of comments I've ever received on this blog was and always will be in response to Ms. Burruss's "Acting 101" post. Those were the days... So, to the person who asked, sorry, we're not at that level of response yet!

Two last items to post from me before I move on (though I'm of course still interested in input from others):

I asked one of my lovely teenage daughters last night whether a theater having a more liberal policy around texting would make her any more likely to go there. She answered with an emphatic 'no' and followed up with: "I wouldn't text in a theater -- or would do it under my coat or something. Doing that during a show is disrespectful. I wouldn't want a theater to allow texting." Snap! And this is from someone who has the phone nearly glued to her hand 24/7. I guess I've been told...

Second, I spoke to someone today who was recently at a conference where he heard about a couple of midwestern theaters that had established "tweet seats" -- seats specifically cordoned off so that any light eminating from them wouldn't be distracting -- where texting is allowed. Also, I read about a theater in Alberta Canada where texting during shows is encouraged and a listing of the tweets written during the first act is posted during intermission.

Don't know what more to say, except that the issue isn't going to go away.

Anj said...

Do you text and tweet when you're at church?
Well, the theatre is my church.

Thespis' Little Helper said...

I think Richmond Shakespeare did a social media night or something maybe a year or so ago where maybe the back two rows you could text/tweet from.

An audience's job? Haven't they already done it by paying to be here? Totally with Dave on that part.

No one really seems to be budging much anywhere. Which seems rather ironic.

If there were a way to have a section reserved for those people where it weren't distracting for others (onstage or in the audience), then why not? Really?

Anonymous said...

BC: Once the audience pays for their ticket, since you claim they serve no purpose beyond doing just that, what is the reason behind them sitting in the theater?

How many theaters do you know in which there is an area where no one can see you? Theaters involve people having to sit next to or behind each other. You'd have to completely remodel and rearrange each theater across the country to allow for special texting sections.

Guess what? 90% (and probably a higher number) of the theater-going public do not text, do not like texting during a show, and are on the side of us that believe it's a rude and disrespectful thing to text during a show. Making excuses for this behavior and giving into the minority for lack of self-control is pretty sad, I say.

Jonathan Spivey said...

Framing the allowance and encouragement of texting during a performance is just one more drop in the bucket of the death of the theatrical art form as we know it. And yes, it signifies that the art form is indeed changing, but not in a direction I'm particularly interested in.

One of the main reasons why people believe they ought to be able to text, talk, eat, sleep, etc. during a show is because they--consciously or unconsciously--equate seeing live theatre with watching television in their own homes. Since most Americans attend movies and watch television dramatically more often than they attend live theatre, there is an unspoken conception in the minds of most audience members that they're watching a "live version" of a television show or a movie. Just take a look at the success of LA's current smash production of "I Love Lucy Live Onstage." That show is selling tickets like hot cakes not only because people loved Lucille Ball, but also because buying the ticket grants you the LIVE experience of a television show.

The irony in that, of course, is that television and movies are FILMED versions of LIVE performances. The art in watching the movie "Frost/Nixon" is Frank Langella's performance. Incidentally, that was the same art that people payed money to see live onstage when he performed exactly the same role. The magic--and I don't mean explosions, gunfights, and cars blowing up--of movies is usually still the work that the actor put into it.

Americans even grant idol status to the celebrities who act in movies. We hang their pictures on our walls, we fantasize about them, we expect them to behave as gods. But you claim it's unreasonable to grant the stage actor who is doing the same work (almost always under more demanding circumstances) the courtesy of not playing with your electronics during a show? From the perspective of a stage actor, that's incredibly insulting.

I think a great question to ask yourself, Dave, is would you dare pull out your phone to send you wife a text about how terrible a minister's sermon is? I seriously doubt it. And going to church and going to the theatre, in my opinion, both satisfy man's instinctual need for a (pun not intended) communal experience. Both deserve the same degree of respect.

Sleeping patrons are a completely different issue. First, most of the sleeping patrons I've seen tend to be elderly, and cannot control the fact that they're falling asleep. From an actor's perspective, of course it angers me to see folks taking a fifty-dollar nap on the front row. But I generally overlook it because they could have been up all night with a family member in the hospital or may have worked an eighty-hour work week prior to sitting in a comfortable chair in a dark room. Theatres do and should allow patrons to sleep in their seats because more often than not, it's something that the patron has no control over. I think it's rare that an audience member says to himself, "Screw this play, I'm going to catch forty winks."

Jonathan Spivey said...

Theatres should not allow audience texting for the same reason they should not allow playing a kazoo or doing cartwheels in the aisles or taking your clothes off or playing Monopoly or killing small animals during a performance. All those actions require the CONSCIOUS DECISION not only to disrespect the performers but also to disrespect the people sitting around you who did not pay fifty bucks to be distracted because you find the climax of the play an appropriate time to remind your wife to pick up two percent milk.

Claiming that theatres "should" allow the use of social media during performances in order to cater to the whims of younger, tech-savvy audiences is the same thing as claiming that all bicycle companies "should" start manufacturing only larger seats because most Americans today are obese.

Of course I see the logic in encouraging theatres to make the experience of going to see a show more attractive to people of a younger generation. But young people don't see live theatre because they're not interested in what's being produced, not because they wish theatres allowed texting. Instead of a theatre channeling resources toward making their space a text-friendly arena, would it not be wiser to channel those same resources toward choosing and developing shows that young people actually want to see?

Dave T said...

"If people cannot do without their texting and tweeting for the duration of a performance, they should stay home."

Melinda, it's great to hear from you! Your comment above touches on one of the things I'm concerned about (and based on the article, what the people running the theater in Bellevue are worried about). My last job required me to be on-call 24/7. I know several doctors who are on-call at all hours. It is not uncommon for a babysitter to text either my wife or I with a question when we are out. If theaters in town used cell phone blockers, I indeed would have had to stay home and so would, I expect, a not-insignificant number of potential theater fans.

I'm sure many, maybe even a great majority, of texters in a theater are texting recreationally. But not all of them.

And again, I'll reiterate -- I generally think texting/tweeting during a show is rude. But I don't think it's as rude as loud talking or sleeping/snoring during a show. What prompted my initial post was the outrage the Bellevue theater announcement seems to have raised -- outrage that I thought was disproportionate to the issue. For all the outrage expressed over the possibility of allowing texting, I think there'd be similar outrage if a theater had some kind of reverse policy, that is, if anyone sleeping during a show would be immediately evicted.

And thanks for the support, BC! I agree with Anj that theater is sacred but, unlike church, you have to pay to get a seat -- upwards of $40 in Richmond, usually over $100 on Broadway. That's not license to be rude, but it also shouldn't be forgotten in the calculus around this issue.

Dave T said...

Also, the latest data I've seen shows that upwards of 80% of Americans text regularly (this article states 72% but it's from more than a year ago). If 90% of theater-goers don't text, than they are even more out of the mainstream than I would have thought.

Jonathan Spivey said...

I see I was foolish enough not to read all the comments before I pulled out my soap box. Thank you, Anj, for pointing out the commonalities between going to church and attending the theatre before I did.

As far as cell phone signal blockers are concerned...I'm actually very much in favor of blocking phone signals in theatrical spaces. Most theatre patrons aren't checking for cell phone signals during a performance in the first place. But if Mary is distracted enough to pull her phone out of her pocket during a show only to discover that she have no signal, I'm willing to bet that while she may be slightly irritated, she's probably gone to put her phone back in her purse and resume her theatrical experience. Yes, a miniscule margin of theatre goers will avoid attending live performances if they know that they won't have cell phone reception during a performance, but a much larger majority or audience members and actors will be grateful for the fact that they don't have to deal with distraction.

"I agree with Anj that theater is sacred but, unlike church, you have to pay to get a seat -- upwards of $40 in Richmond, usually over $100 on Broadway. That's not license to be rude, but it also shouldn't be forgotten in the calculus around this issue."

Yes, it's unfortunate that theatre is expensive in today's economy. But does the fact that you have to pay for a ticket entitle you to do whatever you please after you've shelled out your cash? I pay for an airline ticket, but the fact that I've paid for it doesn't entitle me to assault the flight attendants...

Dave T said...

Assaulting the flight attendants??? While I'm trying to understand where you're coming from, Jonathan, I feel that arguing in the extreme undermines your point. Texting in a theater does not equate in any way to physically assaulting someone. When I saw you and Debra Wagoner in "Souvenir," the audience was the rudest and most distracting I probably ever experienced. But, while it was close, I didn't experience any of it as a physical assault -- and none of it had anything to do with texting! In fact, I would have paid the asshat offering his loud commentary during much of the show if he would have texted his companion rather than spouting it loudly. It would have been much less distracting to those around him.

As BC so distinctly put it, if there is a special section set aside for texters engineered not to be distracting, what would be the harm? My analogy would be cell phone use in cars. There is legislation to prevent people from using them in an unsafe manner -- which is a good and necessary thing. But there are also hands-free devices that allow people to use cell phones in a safe (or at least safer) manner while driving. In reality, if someone sitting a row or two behind you is texting (particularly with their display on low illumination and volume off), it won't distact you. So, as I think I said above, if the last 2 rows in the house are distinguished as "tweet seats," wouldn't that be better than having the annoying texter sitting third row center?

Also, as I keep saying, this issue isn't going away, seems to me to be getting worse, and just continually saying "it's rude" doesn't actually address the problem. If I was going to argue in the extreme -- which of course, I'd never do :-) -- I'd say that theater tickets are too expensive for young people and the live theater experience is too restrictive (between limited show times, parking often an issue, plus the ticket prices, etc.) for older professionals with families. So who primarily goes to the theater? Old people who tend to fall asleep during the performance. And we wonder why the theater audience is disappearing....

I welcome any initiative, from a more open policy for texting to more opportunities for audience interaction that might turn that trend around. Not to diminish the theater experience but to make it more attractive to a wider audience.

Business Person said...

Dave, you said: "So, as I think I said above, if the last 2 rows in the house are distinguished as "tweet seats," wouldn't that be better than having the annoying texter sitting third row center?"

So, if you have the last two rows of the theater, let's say that's 40 seats (20 seats per row, in a Broadway house - just making a guess here), and you're selling these as tweet/text seats. Let's say you only sell 5 - 10 seats (one performance) for people who want to text, but these rows are specifically for texters and tweeters only...what happens to those empty seats in the back of the theater that aren't on sale to the rest of the public? Perhaps you do offer them, but no one wants to sit there because of the tweeters and texters. Isn't that revenue lost, ultimately? Empty seats, and only a few texters...doesn't seem like a 100% good idea to me, as a business person. Did I miss a part of the concept here?

Susie said...

Yes, Business Person, and I'm guessing many of those who might want to tweet/text might prefer better seats than in the last row. Just a logistical dead end, I'm afraid.

And I am pretty sure it's correct that the main barriers to young people attending theater are productions of interest and ticket prices.

And Dave, if I'm in the theater, I'm no less bothered by your "legitimate reason" texting than by the texting of someone who's just goofing around.

I think it's a major dilemma for theaters--we sure see it locally--to decide whether to go forgo the dependable older audience in favor of trying to attract the elusive younger one. It's really hard, I imagine, to keep a grip on both. I sympathize.

Dave T said...

Good point, business person! So maybe if you are the Empire, you start by offering the last row, house left as tweet seats. Or at the Firehouse or Triangle Players, the last row of the house, in other words, 5-10 seats. Yes, there'd be the potential of losing a little revenue but only in those relatively rare occassions of complete sell outs. And you balance that against having a new marketing angle plus possibly bringing in new people who wouldn't necessarily come to the theater PLUS who might tweet about the show to others and become a value-add marketing cohort. And, if the experiment fails after a show or two or a season, you give it up.

As I was driving around today, I realized the reason I having trouble letting this issue go. I sense in the people expressing outrage that there is this undercurrent of derision about people who text or tweet, like they are all techno nuts or spoiled teens who can't leave their technology alone for even a couple of hours. In my experience, there is a rising number of people who tweet and text regularly who are engaged, intelligent multi-taskers and who use social media to build business relationships and increase their reach. They aren't all young but they are dynamic and they thrive on the interactive aspects of social media. I'm thinking of people like Judi Crenshaw (a very active tweeter), Jonah Holland, Sara Marsden, "the checkout girl," Jack Lauterback, etc. etc.

I think these are EXACTLY the kind of people theater companies want to come their shows and I think they should be doing everything they can to encourage them to come. Not only are they creative and engaged but they are the kind of people who tell others about positive experiences and, in some cases, have an audience of thousands. Furthermore, I think there is a natural intersection of interests for these kinds of people and live theater. As people have pointed out, live theater is an inherently interactive art form (though a little more passive than say a video game). And it used to be much more interactive (think Elizabethan theater -- natural lighting, groundlings throwing fruit at the performers...)

Certainly the experience of modern live theater (where people sit in a dark theater and be quiet) should be preserved for those who thrive on it. But if accomodation can be made to appeal to this rising population of engaged, involved, and intelligent tweeters, shouldn't we be trying to make it?

Jonathan Spivey said...

I completely agree that the social-media-savvy sector of the general public could help a show as far as marketing is concerned. And I am consistently delighted when I read posts online from friends who recommend shows. But why shouldn't the media savvy be expected to wait to Tweet?

Yes, Facebook and Twitter are enormously useful and necessary marketing tools for the success of shows. But I think most theatre companies worth their salt are already handling their own social media campaigns. And if they aren't, they're foolish to think they're going to cultivate a tech-savvy (and, most of the time, younger) audience without the use of Facebook.

Drawing parallels between the interactivity of Shakespeare's theatre and the interactivity of someone texting during a show doesn't really add up for me. Even if Mary is only texting about the show she is seeing (and I seriously doubt that's the typical case), doing so requires a conscious, deliberate removal from the theatrical experience. That willingness to remove oneself bothers me for the same reason I'm bothered when my father spends every waking breath taking photographs when we're on vacation. He's documenting and responding to the experience, but in doing so, he's not dedicating his full and complete attention to the experience itself.

Please don't misunderstand me, I'm very much in favor of fostering a more interactive theatrical space. That's something fellow artists and I fantasize about all the time. But I don't think allowing texting is the way to do it. I think there are much simpler, interesting, and effective ways.

Just one example: The Old Globe here in San Diego just staged "The Rocky Horror Show" with a publicity campaign that encouraged people to dress up and to call out the response phrases that made the movie such a cult classic. People came out in droves, probably in large part due to the fact that they know the movie. Audience members did indeed yell, scream, and throw things around, and the performers and the actors played off that energy. The feeling in the house was electric. I saw no one in that house of 650 people sleeping, nor did I see anyone texting. Yes, there were some older patrons who were dumbfounded and left at intermission, but there were many more older patrons who were thrilled and had a story for their friends the next day.

Doesn't this type of "interactivity" sound like a much more exciting experience than sitting in a room full of patrons dividing their attention between the stage and their devices?

Maxie Pad - Non Texter said...

I think people should be allowed to text and tweet in their own section... you know... the standing room/lobby section. To equate not being able to text and youngsters not coming to the theatre is simply off the mark completely. And listen, younger people are going to see shows... rock of ages, spiderman, disney etc. It depends on the demographic. Speaking of Richmond, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think firehouse is having any trouble attracting the younger crowd. Stage B was sold out the night I went to see Brew. Thinking that if Swift Creek allowed texting, more youngsters would come is silly. Less would come because Grandma who brings the kids would not come. Also, know that regardless of whether you think texting should be allowed or not, you going to always have people like me in the house who will turn to you and ask you to stop and if I have to proceed to management I will. Why would I do that? Because its distracting. Having a text/tweet section? Can we have a smoking section too? What about an oxygen tank section. Maybe the wrong row can be the read along with the script section. The section near the house left door can be for those who had Mexican before the show and can't help but pass gas and run to the restroom. There is only one section that should be designated and that is the vestibule which will hold all those who come to the theatre late because they hit someone while texting on the way to the theatre!

Augustin said...

I am glad the topic of theatre-space-evolution has finally come up. Every generation suffers from the belief that things must be the way they are going or should stay the way they were. From Greek to Medieval to Renaissance to Restoration to Melodrama to today, every type of theatre space and accepted form of engagement would have been considered a $#!¥show to the one before or after it. We are locked in our own set of ideals and, as Dave pointed out, not really interested in budging. The fact is, puking in the aisles is not widely accepted, women are allowed to attend theatres, and the boxes are not places for aristocrats to have sex anymore. A hundred years from now, our own ideas of theatrical propriety will be outmoded. Yes, they will. Things go on without us. They will change. I am sorry to break it to y'all.
Most of this "sit pleasantly and applaud politely" mentality is derived from the mid 1900' is almost 2012. In the theatre hubs, new models of theatre etiquette are already being tested, if they are not in full swing.
Is texting in theatres what I want? Not especially. Is permitting a section to text worth experimenting with if it can MAYBE bring people in? Hell, yeah. This is theatre, y'all. We experiment. And that's not me being hoity-toity. It's business. And as per the idea of losing ticket sales, Business Man, you can still sell those seats if tweeters don't arrive. They don't disappear. And a college student will snatch one up.
As for the remark about theatre being solely for entertainment...really? Remind me not to come to your shows if I want to be moved in any way. Meaningful work AND entertainment can be accomplished in the same show. If you can't accomplish it...don't direct. You're not doing anyone a favor.

Sound Guy said...

This is rediculous! Put your phones away! Having your phone on and especially sending texts or calls can and has interfered with sound and mics on numerous occasions. Ask any professional sound op! Case closed!

Lou Harry said...

Greetings from Indianapolis. To a couple of points raised:
1. It should be entirely up to a theater to decide if tweeting--or anything else--is okay in its space.
2. If it is allowed, everyone should be aware of it BEFORE they buy a ticket.
3.If it's anywhere beyond the back row or two, this is a theater I would not attend--unless I had to review it.
4. If I were reviewing a show there, I would want to make clear to my readers how much texting was going on in the house if it was distracting.
5. If a theater wanted to have pants-less audience night or tall pointed hat night, godspeed to that theater. Just let everyone know.
6. Sleeping is involuntary. It shouldn't be equated with deliberately going against a stated house policy and choosing to annoy those around you.
7. There is no number 7.
8. Or a number 8.
9. I don't believe that allowing texting would translate into increased ticket sales. Excellence plus smart marketing plus realistic expectations should do that.
Great discussion, by the way. You have smart readers.
Lou Harry
twitter: IBJarts

debra wagoner said...

I'm not a stick in the mud. But I just don't get it. "It's rude" isn't a valid point apparently. It's so mid 1900's to be courteous and respectful? Depending on the theatre experience I'm not sitting on my hands, I may laugh or cry, or clap my hands, but I am THERE--so no I don't mean that people have to sit and listen quietly like mummies. Each show is unique, so each emotional response to it would be unique. Geez. Things are going to be what they are going to be, I know. But I don't understand in my very gut, what is so awful and old fashioned about having good manners? Because I have been in shows where someone or more has been buried in their phone the entire time, and not a spoiled teen. All things considered, I'd rather they sit in the lobby and have a drink to conduct their business, because I know they were not talking about what we were doing up onstage. Obviously they are someone's ride home, so they paid 50 bucks to ignore a show for 2 hours and drive the Mr. or Mrs. or whoever home. Fine. None of my business what they do with their money. I'm marching towards being one of those older theatre goers and like the older patrons of today, I wish people would be respectful. We treat the older generation like something headed for the dump site. They are still buying tickets, and they deserve to be treated as well as anyone. I think "it's rude" is a very valid point. People don't seem to care enough about each other anymore. We'll see what happens. Text and tweet seats. hmmmm.If you're on call or must have your phone on can you not just put it on vibrate and excuse yourself in case of emergency? That never bothers me. People get up and excuse themselves during shows all the time. Things happen. Nature calls. At least they leave to do what they feel can't wait til intermission or post-show.

Grant Mudge said...

I'm with Lou, however, Thespis is correct--we tried a social media night, during which it was known in advance that patrons would be invited to text, tweet, or update their FB status.

We thought at the time it might yield some interesting commentary on the show, and had a chance of getting some retweets & etc. beyond the region. It did, but felt gimmicky. In retrospect, nothing takes the place of cogent, insightful and thoughtful conversation day in and day out. I'd recommend a Tweeter like Kate Powers, one of RS' former directors, brilliant, and connected to a host of terrific theatre artists. (See her twitter feed @_plainkate_). Kate now directs and teaches Shakespeare behind bars in no less a place than Sing Sing.

Interesting discussion.


Stacie Rearden Hall said...

The issue I find in all this is not a matter of rudeness, but a matter of safety and presentation.

Safey comes into play for any actor doing fight choreography. A blinking light at the wrong moment could distract an actor just long enough to miss a step; and that step could be the difference between a really cool fight scene and a trip to the ER to get your side sewn up.

Texting during a show also affects the moment that has been painstakingly created. I am not talking about how it makes the actors feel or about how hard the artists have worked. No, I am talking about moments in a show where the design forwards the plot. Let's say, for example, a show uses darkness to incorporate suspense or to give you a perspective. One cellphone light in a dark theatre can diffuse that moment, possibly even ruining the play.

Anonymous said...

Spin-off blog post that is very interesting and well-reasoned/stated:

Melinda said...

C'mon, Dave. Getting an emergency call(vibrate/buzz) has always been acceptable for doctors/parents/emergency personnel. (My dad was a doctor, and he was always being paged at public events.) It still is. It's the calling OUT and writing your memoirs while in the audience that is really wearing thin. And... I don't believe for a second that anyone would stay away from a performance because they were not allowed to text or tweet. Just don't buy it. I have been at too many concerts and shows that were interrupted by cell phone noises and lights. It is absolutely ruinous for other audience members... and the performers that aren't actually interrupted often feel that "shift" in an audience. Really. We must agree to disagree on this one.

Jonathan Spivey said...

Take a look. I thought this might be of particular interest.

And please let me take the opportunity to thank you, Dave, for opening Pandora's box on this sticky subject. How fantastic it is to hear such wildly different perspectives.