OPINION: Would You Like To Answer That?

Saturday, June 02, 2012

There are now more mobile phone devices in the world than there are people. They are literally being used everywhere. At work and school, while driving and having lunch, on the international space station and in theatres.

Recently, Hugh Jackman famously interrupted his performance during a dramatic scene in A Steady Rain to “allow” a theatre-goer to answer their phone which had been ringing loudly during the show. The patrons clearly didn’t get the message as only a few minutes later Jackman’s co-star Daniel Craig gave the same “allowance” to another patron. And when you have James Bond and Wolverine taking on inconsiderate members of general public those people should be very afraid.

You may think that it is not a big deal and that reports are vastly overstated. However, in New York theatre chairs are being armed with buttons similar to those on aeroplanes that allow patrons to alert ushers and remove disruptive people. In the UK many theatres have introduced fines to audience members who have interrupted the performance. Some venues have even started issuing bans for repeat offenders.

DRTCC ushers have a great trick when they spot a bright screen amongst the audience. They will stand at the end of the aisle giving the offender the hairy eye-ball, making all others in the aisle fixate on the offender. You may think that they are “just an usher” but they in fact have the power to refuse you entry or remove you from the performance. Actually, according to the Live Performance Australia guidelines they have the authority to refuse you entry if you are found repeatedly using your mobile phone as it is considered a recording device.

What is unique about DRTCC is that we hold all types of events under one very vast roof and therefore must create a set of guidelines that maintain a high level of comfort for all patrons and performers across all types of shows.

On the street or at home your mobile phone seems to be relatively low key, right? You can check your messages, finish a few levels of Angry Birds and tweet about One Direction without anyone even noticing. But take that small, seemingly unobtrusive light and put it in a dark room. Suddenly that light is magnified a hundred times and can be noticed from all corners of the auditorium.

We must all remember that not only have 499 other people paid hard earned money for their tickets, we have paid hard earned money for our tickets too. Why would anyone want to miss out on a piece of a live performance that we have specifically chosen and paid to see? This is a night out that we have selected. Are we willing to interrupt that experience for a few moments in front of a screen that may make you public enemy number one in the eyes of those 499 other attendees? That’s right. When we text in a dark auditorium everyone behind us can see that little screen too. Even the sound and lighting operators can see that screen. They can see everything that is typed into the text message. In fact, with a bright screen directly in their line of sight they have trouble seeing anything else.

Theatres employ a range of technical equipment that produce sound and lighting effects for a performance that can also receive transmissions coming and going from your phone. Have you ever driven through Sydney listening to the radio and noticed the constant regular buzzing? It is your phone receiving signal transmissions. This is the same effect your phone has on the Theatre’s technical equipment. The sound technician trying to monitor the sound levels will hear this magnified through their headset. Other backstage and front of house staff who use radio transmitters to communicate will also receive this irritating signal through their communication devices. Even when you silence your phone these signals are still transmitted and still affect the theatre equipment.

These rules are not just limited to the use of mobile phones as a distraction for other patrons. The use of cameras and recording devices is of an even higher restriction. A ringing phone is distracting and highly objectionable, but the flash from a camera is in a different league for a number of reasons.

A camera flash can directly affect the performer’s sight. Do you remember having your family portrait taken as a kid and staggering around for the rest of the day with a bright light in your vision, burnt on your sight? Imagine attempting to carry on a dramatic scene once that has happened.

The prohibition of photography is not only a DRTCC rule, taking photos of what legal people call “intellectual property” in many cases can be a breach of the copyright law. The writers, artists and producers amongst others have worked countless hours to come up with what you see on stage. In short, those who created it may legally own it. And when you take a photo of their creation you are making a copy of a work of art. “The scenery is intellectual property, much like a book, or a song. While you may not be doing anything nefarious with your snapshots, if they end up on the web, that visual information is available to anyone with a quick Google search, and the designs can essentially be stolen” says 2011 Tony Award nominee Beowulf Boritt. We want you to be able to enjoy as much theatre as possible and if you take photos during a show we will be cranky with you and the artists and crew will be cranky with you. You may not be allowed back into theatre so that would make you cranky with us. We don’t want any of that, so to quote something that everyone’s mother has told them at some point in their lives, “we are doing it for your own good”.

Singer and composer Trish Causey said in her article on mobile phones in theatres that “the simplest, and, in fact, only solution is to turn your phone off”. There are few reasons why it is absolutely necessary that you need your phone to be turned on at all times. At the theatre there is even a pre-defined period of time that you are allowed to have your phone ring, reply to messages and missed calls and catch up on all latest Twitter trends. We call it intermission. If everyone allowed their fellow theatre-lovers this simple courtesy Hugh Jackman would have been able to complete another brilliant Broadway performance uninterrupted, everyone could save an hour and a half of their phone’s battery life and you could have spent the last 10 minutes reading James Eddy’s brilliant scientific opinions instead of my apparently-becoming-an-old-man ravings about our priceless patrons using annoying electronic devices.

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