Exclusive: Annaleigh Ashford Speaks Out After Cell Phone User Halts Sylvia Mid-Show

News   Exclusive: Annaleigh Ashford Speaks Out After Cell Phone User Halts Sylvia Mid-Show An audience member at the Dec. 9 matinee of Broadway’s Sylvia disrupted the performance to the point that the actors had to stop the show at the Cort Theatre and start the scene over. Annaleigh Ashford, who stars in the title role, spoke with Playbill.com about the incident and the need to educate theatregoers on the ever-growing issue.

http://cdn-gd.playbill.com/images/cache/private/gdimages/cache/remote/http_cdn-images.playbill.com/ee_assets/00/Sylvia0072r_468_315.jpg

Other audience members took to social media after the incident to complain about the person, who reportedly conducted an extended cell phone conversation just as the show was reaching its dramatic climax.

According to Ashford, the cell phone rang twice, right in the middle of the play's breakup scene between Sylvia and Greg (played by Tony winner Matthew Broderick), which Ashford described as "very emotional." Despite the audience member's location near the front row, the actors continued with the scene.

"We're very lucky to be in a play that is set up so that if a cell phone rings, I can bark at it. It's much easier to recognize and acknowledge it and handle it lightly than in other plays," Ashford said. "If the same phone goes off more than once, it's usually somebody who doesn't know cell phones very well. Well, in this case, the second time it rang she picked it up and answered, and starting talking. It turned into a full conversation. The audience around her started shushing her but she kept talking. We could hear it on stage."

The actress said that her initial reaction was one of concern, rather than outrage. "As an actor I always think that if someone does pick up a phone during a performance, something dire must be happening in their lives that is more important than theatre—some kind of tragedy they were attending to, or something. It's very uncomfortable if you don't know why they would pick up a phone and talk in the middle of a show." Several audience members reported that the woman left her seat and went into a hallway, but that her conversation was still clearly audible. Ashford said she wasn't aware that had happened, but could still hear the conversation.

"So I did my bark: I said, 'Hey hey hey! Hey hey hey!' She didn't stop, So I ad-libbed, 'I think somebody is having a conversation in the other room,' and that got a great laugh. It was a loving, warm way to acknowledge to the audience that we knew what was happening. Theatre is a communal experience, and it was become overwhelmingly clear that this was becoming a problem for all of us.

After two pages of dialogue, Ashford said that she and Broderick gave up on continuing the scene as the audience continued to shush the offending theatregoer. "It became very clear that the audience was so distracted that they weren't in the world of the play any more," she said.

Matthew Broderick and Annaleigh Ashford in <i>Sylvia</i>
Matthew Broderick and Annaleigh Ashford in Sylvia Photo by Joan Marcus

"Then a gentleman in the front row started yelling 'Throw her out!'"  At that point, Ashford said Broderick acknowledged the situation and "made a loving motion to him to calm down."

Finally, someone near the woman helped her get off the phone and turn it off.

"Because of where we were in the play, Matthew and I realized we couldn't just pick up where left off. So we told the audience, 'We're going to go back, if you don't mind.' That got applause. We briefly talked about where to go back to, then Matthew led me into a bow, we took positions, and started the scene again. The audience was with us 100 percent," she said.

Ashford said she agreed to discuss the incident with Playbill.com because, "As actors it is our duty to help educate people on this topic, and help people to understand how much it not only disrupts the storytelling, it disrupts the experience of a lot of people who have spent a lot of money to have that experience.

"I don't know what was going on or why they felt they needed to answer the phone. My only hope is that she and her family are OK—and I hope she never does it again."

Last summer, two-time Tony Award winner Patti LuPone was so distracted by a texting audience member that she snatched the device out of the woman's hands midway through a performance of Shows for Days at Lincoln Center Theater.

A Walk in the Park With Annaleigh Ashford — Talk of Post-Tonys Nachos and Pounding the Pavement for Years

Today’s Most Popular News: