Thursday, December 9, 2010


This word is hardly out of the ordinary; however, I was surprised to come across it in my Playbill from West Side Story.

From a note from the "fire commissioner".

Thoughtless persons annoy patrons and endanger the safety of others by lighting matches or smoking in prohibited areas during the performance and intermissions.

True enough, though I must say that after attending the ballet, the theater, the concert, the reading, and the puppet show: I find thoughtless persons endangering/marring/ruining my theatrical experience by lighting their screens during the performance.

I would like to believe that if Gerry Schoenfeld were still around, he would be the chair of a Broadway theaters committee that would set a precedent for the problem (not “issue”) of screen and ring plague.

There would be at least one attorney on this committee who would deem the act of, let's say, a cell phone ringing just after Anita says, "I got a message for your American buddy" to be more than annoying. She would argue that the person whose ringtone played "Never Can Say Goodbye" altered the experience for the entire audience, an audience listening for words and music as spoken and played by the performers.

This attorney would suggest that theater owners take matters into their own hands and fine the offending parties. This attorney would say something like, "We’ve had enough polite announcements. This is no longer about etiquette. 'Please turn off your cell phone and other electronic devices'—it's not working. People think that 'vibrate' means 'off'. People are positive they have turned off their phones and don’t check. People think they're so important they actually answer their phones in the middle of the second act—they actually scroll text messages after the lights have gone down! They behave as if they're watching television in their living rooms. They think little to nothing of the people behind them, nothing of the person on either side.

Somebody needs to take back the theater. The conditions of live performance presupposes a tacit agreement between the performers and audience members and between and among each and every audience member. If a member of the audience violates that agreement, he or she should get a ticket and pay $500, end of story. At worst, we'll make $5,000 a week in fines, and the show will get a cut. We should take this on a pilot run and see if it can be the end of anything goes. And then we can actually enjoy all of Anything Goes."

A supporter would say, "Should we also fine people who eat bags of potato chips and bring water bottles full of ice cubes?"

A skeptic would say, "C'mon, this isn’t the same as lighting matches."

The attorney would say, "Look, does the actor, does the tenor, does the conductor, does the ballerina—do these people perform with their cell phones? Not unless they're playing Osage County."

What would the fire commissioner say?

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