Patti LuPone caused many to raise the ongoing issue of cellphone manners. The veteran stage and television actress ignited the debate within the theater community and on social media when she snatched a smartphone from a texting audience member during one of her off-Broadway performances of Shows for Days this week. That incident occurred after the Tony Award-winner already endured what she called a “a cacophony of noise” with four cellphones going off, one twice, during that day’s matinee performance. She had enough of rude patrons who cannot disconnect for 90 minutes.
According to LuPone, the woman sat in the second row and was texting through the entire first act. The actress figured she probably was not enjoying the show. “I couldn’t believe she came back after intermission,” the Broadway star noted. It was when the audience member was still texting during the second act that LuPone reacted and snatched the offensive phone.
Many people on social media applauded LuPone’s intervention on behalf of irritated theatergoers everywhere. The actress said, “There’s an arrogance and defiance to these people.” She is only the latest actor to react during a performance, joining Hugh Jackman, Kevin Spacey and Laurence Fishburne, who have interrupted performances after rude patrons interrupted them.
The problem is not just the ringtones and, unbelievably, people actually speaking into their phones to say “I’m at the theatre” in live shows and films. It is the light from their gadget too, that distracts everyone around them and can destroy the adventure for others.
Some have attributed the problem on Broadway to the presence of tourists or younger patrons who have never been to a live stage show and do not know the etiquette. But that ignores the fact that they must go somewhere that people gather and should respectfully be paying attention. It is common human decency and that has not changed with modern gadgets.
The same phones and texting problems occurred more than ever at this spring’s graduations, at religious services and even a funeral this writer attended. People’s inability to turn off and allow themselves to be in the moment and off the electronic leash is scary. These are not people on a transplant list waiting to hear that a kidney has been found, they are people waiting to hear the latest gossip, making social plans or checking what restaurant to go to after the event.
There is no movie theatre, stage show or place like the Hollywood Bowl that does not ask people to turn off their cell phones now before the show. The same is true at many other events. Yes, the reminder is admittedly needed, but these are people who believe it did not pertain to them.
Believe it or not, parents used to go out without being reachable instantly by the sitter. They would check in during intermission and right after. Friends did not have to be available 24/7 to remain “in touch.” The latest social media posting or Tweet can actually wait. Responding a little which later really does not hurt. Patti LuPone and the texting audience member may have raised another discussion about the question of cellphone manners, but undoubtedly this will not be the last time the issue of public inconsideration is raised. Just hopefully, it will make people a little more conscious to check their phones and their behavior.
Opinion by Dyanne Weiss
New York Times: Theaters Struggle With Patrons’ Phone Use During Shows
Los Angeles Times: Patti LuPone on cellphone abusers: ‘Arrogance and defiance’
New York Times: Hold the Phone, It’s Patti LuPone
Washington Post: Patti LuPone and the cost of cellphone addiction
Photo of Patti LuPone (right) in Shows for Days courtesy Lincoln Center Theater