By Robert Simonson
07 Jul 2012
|Photo by Amy Arbus|
Question: What can be done about those rude and thoughtless theatergoers who insist on texting during a performance? The glow from their devices is annoying and distracting. We are accustomed to being asked before a performance to turn off cell phones, etc., and we are grateful for that reminder. Perhaps the pre-performance announcement should also include something like "and please do not text during performance as it is distracting to other patrons who have paid good money to enjoy the show." How can we make this happen and stop the infernal screen glow from these self-absorbed individuals?!—Susan A., White Plains, NY
Every theatre on Broadway, and many Off-Broadway, begins the performance with an announcement, warning them that the recording or photographing of the show is illegal and "strictly prohibited," and advising them to turn off their cell phones and unwrap any hard candies. The orders are so familiar that they routinely draw titters from the crowd. Yet, the audience somehow still needs to hear them, because there's always someone who fails to heed the call.
While every regular theatregoer with a brain and a conscience probably knows by now that the use of cell phones during a performance is frowned upon, many of these same people haven't received the message that texting during a show is equally offensive and distracting to performers and fellow theatregoers. They type away, imagining that, because the activity is silent, they're not bothering anybody—apparently not realizing that they are bathing the immediate area in a white glow. (How they manage to be texting when they've been told to turn off their cells is a conundrum.)
But what if the ushers and house manager in the theatre that you are sitting in aren't taking action? Should you take the scolding into your own hands? We turned to Daniel Post Senning, the great-great-grandson of etiquette expert Emily Post and co-author of "The 18th Edition of Emily Post's Etiquette," for advice.
"It's really tricky," said Senning. "The A-plus answer is it's up to the theatre, and they should take responsibility for them. That can be with an announcement at the start, which are common. Texting should be part of that announcement. The idea that texting is the safe alternative to the cell phone call is out there. But it's incredibly rude. This is not an open question—it's distracting to the players and the audience."
Still, added Senning, "It's usually not good manners to correct someone else's behavior. You don't have the standing to do it. If the behavior is very egregious, you can maybe mention it. But people don't like being told what to do. We don't advise you challenge someone. Tell someone who has standing in the theatre [like the house manager or an usher]. If they're unwilling to do it, then you're in a situation where you can ask for your money back. You're not powerless. You're still a consumer."Continued...