By Alyssa Appleton
There is no doubt that technology and social media have allowed us as audience members and theatre-goers easier access to shows, stars, and more. But, as with all things, with the positives come negatives, like we’ve seen with the growing fad of picture-taking, recording, even answering the phone during productions of Broadway shows and tours over the last few years. During one infamous incident, an audience member attempted to plug their phone into an electric outlet…onstage. Cast members of shows have been known to stop scenes or musical numbers when audience members’ phones go off. Lin-Manuel Miranda recently called out several audience members during a production of Hamilton for taking pictures. It’s safe to say that cast and crew of many shows are growing frustrated with this phone-epidemic.
Benedict Cumberbatch once stopped and restarted the famed “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet because of cell phone use, and still saw people in the audience filming, even after they’d restarted the scene. His heartfelt, classy plea at the stage door that night went viral,
“It’s mortifying, and there’s nothing less supportive or enjoyable as an actor being onstage than experiencing that. And I can’t give you what I want to give you, which is a live performance that you will remember hopefully in your minds and brains — whether it’s good, bad or indifferent — rather than on your phones.”
And while photos and recording are distracting and a form of piracy, the distraction stretches further than that – into the realm of answering phone calls or texting relentlessly during performances. Patti LuPone has stopped performances to acknowledge audience members taking photos or recording, and once she took a phone from an audience member who was continually texting (it was returned after the show). Hugh Jackman has spoken to audience members that were talking during performances, and his shows, too, have sometimes stopped scenes if phones ring…and ring…and ring…and ring.
What you may be asking yourself is…in terms of photos and videos, why are these theatre professionals so frustrated? Why is it, when audience members spend significant amounts of money to obtain theatre tickets, that they can’t take a photo or video to commemorate their experience? I can empathize with that frustration. It’s your favorite new show, you’re thrilled to be there with your mom, dad, brother, sister, best friend, significant other, etc. and you want something to remember the experience by. As someone who’s worked onstage, backstage, in the front of house, and upstairs in a marketing office, I will try and break this down the only way I can: from my perspective.
Firstly, each production has its own rules in regards to photo and video before the production begins, during intermission, and after the production ends. Sometimes productions are happy to let audience members take photos before a show starts, or during intermission, or after it’s over. Some don’t want photos or video at all once the audience has started to file into the seating area, including before the show begins, during intermission, or after the show. If you want to take a photo but aren’t sure about a show’s specific policy, ask an usher. They have been briefed on that information and will be happy to tell you whether or not you can take a photo or video.
These photo and video policies exist due to copyright laws. Everything onstage is copywritten: the sets, the costumes, the words, the music…all of it. And when audience members take photos or video during a production, they are violating that copyright whether they know it or not. If I were to record a film in a movie theatre, it would be considered piracy, and a violation of that film’s copyright. It’s the same with taking photos and videos of a theatrical experience. This includes the use of the popular app Snapchat, where photos and videos disappear within 24 hours. A photo or video using Snapchat is still in violation of a production’s copyright laws. But again, if you’re unsure about the rules of a production here at the Pantages (or anywhere!), ask an usher. They will have the answer for you. They may even be willing to take the photo or video if photos and videos are allowed!