FaceTime in the Front Row? Updating Live: Laura Osnes, Elle McLemore, Georgia Stitt and More Sound Off on Theatre Etiquette

News   FaceTime in the Front Row? Updating Live: Laura Osnes, Elle McLemore, Georgia Stitt and More Sound Off on Theatre Etiquette
Hand-held devices are taking over Broadway, and those wishing to experience live theatre without disturbance have had it! In light of recent events, actors and artists are speaking up and sounding off on theatre etiquette in hopes for a better Broadway.

In case you missed it, a 19-year-old theatregoer jumped on stage at the Booth Theatre hoping to charge his dead cell phone in a fake outlet on the set of Hand to God, causing a scene and the show to be held. After taking the Internet by storm, we tracked him down to explain his actions

Nick Silvestri (center) attempted to charge his phone on the <i>Hand to God</i> stage
Nick Silvestri (center) attempted to charge his phone on the Hand to God stage

Following that incident, a theatregoer at the Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center was tied to her phone during the middle of Shows for Days. Luckily, for the audience, Patti LuPone is starring in that show through the summer. She put an end to the texting by grabbing the phone as she walked off stage

Playbill.com reached out to the artists in our community to hear their thoughts! We will continue to update as the responses come in.

Laura Osnes
It's not only distracting to see an audience member on their phone during a performance, but it's also disrespectful.  Knowing that we're working hard on stage to entertain (while the audience has paid good money to see us do so!), it frustrates and saddens me to think people would rather be texting. It makes us feel like perhaps we're not succeeding at our job. Save the texting, calling and posting for intermission, my friends. Many of the theatres even have free WiFi for you now. Use it appropriately.

During one performance of Cinderella, someone in the front row took out their iPhone and started video taping "Impossible" with the FLASH ON! It's bad enough to video tape a performance, but if you're going to break the rules, at least TRY to be DISCRETE about it. He proudly held up his camera, with the bright flash shining continually, for at least 60 seconds. Did he and everyone else around him not notice the light? Did he think we wouldn't notice it on stage? And, where were the ushers to stop this from happening? I was particularly upset because it was during my magical costume transformation, which should remain magical and un-captured/not-posted. I have to admit, I purposely stared at the person throughout the rest of the number, in desperate hopes he would notice I was obviously distracted and offended by this action. But he was oblivious. I finally got off stage and immediately reported it to stage management. I couldn't help that I was pretty irritated about it. 

The only times I've snuck out my camera during a show is at closing-night curtain calls or when I've gotten to see my friends go on as understudies. I know, I know... Here I am, I'm guilty of it, too. But, my message goes back to being highly discrete and quick about it. (And, to be honest, my friends are usually pretty happy to see I snapped a secret picture of their special moment.)

Remy Zaken
If you shouldn't do it on a first date, you shouldn't do it in the theatre. That includes checking your phone, being rude to the usher, talking too much (in this case just don't talk at all) and drinking too much. But definitely let us know if you like what you see (respectfully, of course).

Dale Soules
Perhaps the unwritten contract between the audience and the performers needs to be restated. The audience comes to live theatre to hear and see a story that the performers are telling. We the performers are weaving a delicate fabric of illusion, (one definition of an illusion is, to lead the mind on ingeniously to defeat its own logic.) If we are successful, the audience will believe they have entered our illusion. In Shows For Days, the show/story I am now telling with my cast mates at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, we take the audience back to 1973 to a Community Theatre in Reading, PA, where the most important thing in our characters' lives is the live theatre.

I ask the audience to remember why they have come. They are our partners. We need you and your attention because without you the entire purpose of our story-telling is lost. Please do your part as the audience, which is to give us your attention and respond to the story we are telling. Perhaps the management can train the house managers and ushers to be more vigilant before and during the performance. Perhaps when tickets are presented to the usher for seating the cell phone should also be presented to show that it is in fact "turned off" and a warning that if it goes off or is used for texting etc. the phone will be taken away and held till the end of the performance. The second part is harder to do as the confiscation during the performance also creates a distraction. So please, dear audience, enjoy the full measure of your live theatre experience and partnership with us. Turn off the phones in the theatre.

Elle McLemore
Just don't be a cotton-headed ninny muffins! Once on tour with Bring It On: The Musical, a group of kids were talking and throwing a t-shirt back and forth across the first few rows in the orchestra section. A lot of times, we would see the younger crowds behave as if they were at a movie theatre, or in this case, a Lakers game. Being a part of the younger theatre community, I think it's the responsibility of my generation to make sure the values and etiquette that make live theatre so sacred are preserved!

Georgia Stitt


Gideon Glick
Performing in the theatre takes an extraordinary amount of focus. The task of the actor is to stay present for one-and-a-half to three hours. What audience members seem to forget is that this is our livelihood. This is how we make money. We are being evaluated constantly by how we are performing. It never ends. Providing a good performance every night is a difficult and essential task for the actor. When a phone rings, beeps or a glow emanates from the audience, our concentration has been broken. The moment has been ruined and we have been taken out of something that we have devoted our lives to perfect and craft. Your phone not only ruins the experience for other people in the audience, but it is also interfering with our chances to succeed.

Adrienne Warren
The lack of theatre etiquette is a much deeper issue than the lack of respect of the art form in this country. As time presses on, we have become less respectful and attentive towards our fellow man. The technology age that allows us to progress as a society has inhibited our humanity. On a day-to-day the lack of human connection is astounding. Just take a look around you!

Theatre is the epitome of human connection. It forces us to feel, touch, embrace and think. It is an art form that demands respect and attention. Unfortunately, until we as a human race begin to embrace one another in a way that forces us to look beyond our devices, I fear the theatre will continue to suffer as a result.

Janet Krupin
This is our church. Come to worship or don't come at all.

Cheyenne Jackson
Good for Patti! Cell phone etiquette is abhorrent these days. It's gross and entitled to think that the rules don't apply to you. People don't even try to hide the fact that they are on the phone anymore. It's so unabashed and just plain rude. People, we can SEE you from up there. Check your Instagram in an hour. It will still be there.

Kara Lindsay
Recently we had a very bold audience member decide to FaceTime in the FRONT ROW. She had the phone facing the stage so that, whomever she was FaceTiming with, could also see the show. That was very kind of her...

We could see said FaceTimer laying down in a bed or on a couch casually enjoying our show in her front-row camera view. All of us on stage were clearly distracted and could not hold in our laughter at this audience member's sheer boldness! Honesty, I think that maybe people are genuinely unaware of what theatre etiquette entails. There is an announcement before every show, but I think generally people are distracted by their devices and do not even hear it. Electronic devices are taking over our lives, and I know I am absolutely guilty of constantly checking my phone. If I wasn't in this business, I wonder if I'd be that audience member that had their phone taken away by Patti LuPone for texting during her show. It's just scary that we are losing the ability to just sit, without distraction of a shiny bright screen, and enjoy a theatrical experience. I know I have the urge to check my phone when I see a movie, when I'm reading a book, watching a TV show, etc. We are conditioned to be connected with our devices at all times. I think audience members should be aware that we can see them... We can see the bright light reflected on their face, we can see the orange light (or flash!) when they take pictures, and we can also hear their applause and laughter when they are enjoying a show. Let's put away our shiny devices and experience some magic! We can do it!... Wait, let me just check my email first.  

Kara Lindsay
Kara Lindsay Photo by Joan Marcus

Matt Doyle
I was at THE notorious Patti LuPone performance! It was amazing watching how annoyed (not embarrassed) the woman was after her phone was taken from her. You could tell that she was itching to get it back for the rest of the show. That's the saddest part about the entire incident. After being embarrassed in front of an entire crowd of people, she still continued to talk to her husband about getting her phone back.

I will admit this: I was at a performance of Richard II (starring Kevin Spacey) in London ten years ago, and my cell phone went off. I was with all of my classmates. It was during an incredibly quiet moment. It took (what felt like) ages to turn it off. It was the worst feeling in the world. I was completely mortified. I remember every detail of that moment ten years later, so clearly I still feel horrible guilt haha! That's why I am always shocked whenever people are casually using their phones in the audience.

It's a horrible feeling to look out into the crowd and see a glowing screen illuminating a distracted face. I can guarantee to any audience member, WE SEE YOU. When you do a show eight times a week, the tiniest lights distract in a very big way. So stop texting, and for the love of God, stop filming. Respect the actors on stage. Triple check your phone, look up from your Playbill, and watch the show you just spent 100 bucks on. The text can wait.

Lesli Margherita
Please look at my tweet from yesterday!


What ever happened to dressing for the theatre!?!?! You spend $150 bucks and act like you're going to the pool! If I see another patron in flip-flops and gym shorts, I'm gonna lose it!  

Celia Keenan-Bolger
During Peter and The Starcatcher, about 20 minutes before the end of the play, someone's cell phone went off. It was a weird ring, and it was very loud. We ignored it. But then it went off again and kept going off every four minutes. The audience got noticeably frustrated and started groaning every time it happened. We realized it was an alarm, and all I could think about was that it was going to keep going off and ruin the end of the play.

After Stache's exit, I walked down to the edge of the stage and said something like, "We now ask you to imagine a cell phone going off for many minutes. We won't be angry, but if it belongs to you just please, please turn it off." The guy did, the audience clapped, and we went back to the play.

I think we've all had a cell phone go off at an inconvenient/embarrassing time. I think if you deal with it quickly and respectfully, it's not a real issue. But letting it go on and on because you're embarrassed to let the people around you know it's yours is where it becomes a problem.

If your phone goes off in a theatre, and you think it's yours, check and turn it off immediately.


Caissie Levy
To me, it's about common sense and common courtesy. Real, live human beings are standing in front of you, trying to take you out of your life and into another world for roughly two-and-a-half hours. When everyone gets on board with that, there's an incredible connection created between the actors and the audience, and it's magical! So my question to someone who won't turn off their phone is, wouldn't you rather have magic?

Laura Benanti
Let's face it… We are addicted to our devices. It is now socially acceptable, in the middle of a conversation with someone, to be on your phone. It is totally normal to see a group of friends or a family at a restaurant "enjoying each other's company" by hunching over their cell phones. How many times have you caught yourself watching TV while scrolling through your phone at the same time? (Never? Yeah me neither, I've never done that either.) Every concert event or special occasion (even the opening ceremony of the Olympics!) is dotted with LED screens while people "capture the moment."

Laura Benanti
Laura Benanti

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate technology. I am guilty of everything I mentioned above (except for the "Olympics" thing, I was too busy warming up for my event to be on my phone #USA). All of this is to say, of COURSE people are abusing their phones in the theatre. That is what we do now. We abuse our phones EVERYWHERE. So what's the solution?

As a performer, I can tell you, it is extremely distracting and disheartening to look into the audience and see people completely disengaged from your performance, and living in the world of their phone. As an audience member, I find it INFURIATING when the harsh light or ring or buzz of someone's phone takes me out of the performance I am so engrossed in (and paid money to see). So, what do we do? Is there a solution beyond pre-show announcements instructing us to turn our damn phones off and unwrap our candies? Is there a way for theatres to become "no service" zones? Must there be a Patti LuPone impersonator at every show in every theatre across the globe ripping phones out of rude people's hands like some magnificent high belting vigilante? Or does it really all come down to personal responsibility? What do you think? Let's get this discussion going. (Sent from my iPhone)

Press agent Rick Miramontez
The curtain call is part of the performance! And, for me, the most euphoric part. Stay for the curtain call! Stand, cheer, throw flowers, sit on your hands, whatever. But STAY FOR THE BOWS!

Today’s Most Popular News: