A bill banning cell-phone use during public performances — including Broadway and Off-Broadway productions — took a big step forward Nov. 19.
The New York Times reports that the New York City Council's Consumer Affairs Committee passed a bill — by a vote of four to one — that would forbid the use of cell phones in "places of public performance." The bill would also make those who violate the bill subject to a possible $50 fine. Signs outlining the cell-phone ban would also be required by operators of such performance spaces as movie theatres, concert halls, auditoriums, galleries, museums, libraries and Broadway houses.
How such a ban would be enforced is a more complicated issue, observers say.
The bill was originally proposed this past summer by Councilman Philip Reed, who told the Times, "We've been able to refine the legislation to effectively curtail the use of mobile phones during performances . . . [however], it does permit people to use them in the lobby and in concession areas and in other arenas."
The one vote against the bill was cast by Queens Councilman John C. Liu, who did not believe cell-phone disturbance was a matter for legislators. The bill will next go to the full Council. *
Legislation banning cell phone use, introduced Aug. 15 at New York's City Hall by Councilman Phil Reed, has gained support from Actors' Equity Association.
At a Sept. 24 hearing on the bill, Backstage reports that Carol Waaser — the eastern regional director for Actors' Equity — testified in favor of the controversial bill, which would make cell phone use illegal "any place where members of the public assemble to witness cultural, recreational or educational activities." Such places include movie theatres, concert halls, libraries, museums and live theatre.
About the aforementioned hearing, Waaser told the industry paper, "I, along with other witnesses, spoke in favor of the ban but cautioned that enforcement would be difficult and could cause more of a disturbance than the original offense." Others who spoke in favor of the ban at the hearing included the League of American Theatres and Producers' Barbara Janowitz, the National Association of Theatre Owners' Robert Sunshine and the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers' George Elmer.
Councilman Reed added, "A lot of people — most people, a majority of people — want to obey the law. It's like the penal code, the health code — there's no smoking in a restaurant, people don't do it. But right now, turning off a cell phone is a request; it's not a law. If it's helpful to the management of the theatre, that's a good thing — it's empowering to be able to say, 'You're violating the law, it's against the law to talk on the phone, turn it off.' And if you have somebody who's going to continue to talk and talk and talk, the management can insist they stop. They can say, 'I'm going to get a police officer.'"
—By Andrew Gans