Friday, December 17, 2010

Ask Not For Whom The Phone Tolls

A cellphone went off during the final minute of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at Steppenwolf, at the press performance. The end of Virginia Woolf is about as intense a moment as the modern theatre has, and I can only imagine how awful and jarring it must have been for the audience and cast. And of course, since it was the press performance, it got into the papers--Hedy Weiss, in the Sun-Times, called for the offender to be tarred and feathered, and Chris Jones wrote and entire piece on the interruption and others he has suffered. (Not to mention the one he has perpetrated.) He ended with a call for forgiveness, though many of the commenters were not so charitable.

I was among the commenters, and shared my worst cellphone memory:

In 2005, I was at the Shaw Festival, in Canada, watching a production of R. C. Sherriff's Journey's End. The play is set in the trenches in World War One, and it was being produced in the Court House Theatre. The theatre has 340-some seats, but it's a very intimate space, and the design was particularly immersive. It was a wonderful production, and the audience was rapt in attention for most of the show. During one scene, the characters were discussing the worst part of living in the trenches: the awful quiet, and the attendant uncertainty. You can guess the rest--that's when the endless cellphone ringing started. To the infinite credit of the actors, they never broke character, and avoided the temptation to make a cheap joke. (I would not have been so virtuous.)

Audience rudeness, of course, extends beyond phones: Dobama Theatre in Cleveland once did a production of Sam Shepard's The Late Henry Moss. The theatre was a smallish thrust space, so you could always see the set before the show started. This particular set included a body under a blanket--the title character. At a performance I ushered, a curious audience member wandered on to the stage and pulled back the blanket, curious as to whether it was a real body. I was taking tickets, so I wasn't able to stop them--it never occured to me we'd need stage guards as well.

So what are the worst instances of audience rudeness that you've ever witnessed, with phones or otherwise? Have you ever accidentally been a perpetrator yourself?


Monica Reida said...

During Still Life With Iris, I was standing up in the booth, which was in the back of the mezzanine, watching the show. Then, I saw a bright light and asked the light board operator if he saw it as well. We then told the house manager about it and kept watching the girl on her cellphone, making comments about what she was doing. Like that she was checking Facebook on her phone during the performance. Eventually the sound board operator heard what we were saying and he told us that he knew the girl. So during intermission, he walked up to her and said, "Oh, hey, don't use your phone. Our stage manager and light board operator spent most of the first act talking about it in between cues."

This was after the house manager told her to put her phone away.

She didn't use her cellphone for the rest of the performance.

We also had a performance where someone was snoring very loudly.

pengo said...

I saw RED on Broadway the closing weekend last June. I heard no less than seven cellphones go off during the run of the intermissionless performance.

You know what bothered me more? The murmuring of indignant audiences members that went on long after each phone stopped ringing.