What Rules, if Any, Should There Be About Phone Use During Live Performances?

What Rules, if Any, Should There Be About Phone Use During Live Performances?

What was the last live performance you saw? Did you or others in the audience use your phones during the show? Were you allowed to?

Watch the short video above about what happened during a recent performance of the Off Broadway musical “The Wrong Man.”

What’s your reaction to the video? Do you think it’s acceptable to use your phone during a live performance? Why or why not?

Joshua Henry, the star of a new Off Broadway musical called “The Wrong Man,” had tried repeatedly to signal his disapproval to the man in the onstage seating who was using his smartphone to capture his performance, but he wasn’t getting through.

By the third song, Mr. Henry had had enough. So he reached into the seats, deftly grabbed the phone out of the man’s hand, wagged it disapprovingly, and tossed it under a riser — all mid-song, without skipping a beat. “I knew I had to do something,” he explained later.

Just a few nights earlier, in Ohio, the renowned violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter had stopped playing Beethoven mid-concerto to ask a woman in the front row to quit making a video of her. After the woman rose to reply, she was escorted out of the hall by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s president, and the music resumed.

Both artists were cheered — first in person, later on social media — for taking a stand against the growing ranks of smartphone addicts who cannot resist snapping pictures and making recordings that are often prohibited by rule or by law, that are distracting to performers and patrons, and that can constitute a form of intellectual property theft.

But such confrontations are fueling a new debate about digital-era etiquette. No one likes a ringing cellphone to interrupt a cathartic moment. But both theater and classical music have aging fan bases and a desire to attract younger and more diverse audiences, and some suggest that an emphasis on behavioral restrictions is a form of off-putting elitism.

“It’s turned into a battle over who belongs, and who gets to set the rules,” said Kirsty Sedgman, a lecturer in theater at the University of Bristol and the author of “The Reasonable Audience,” a book about contemporary debates over theater etiquette.

“Everyone goes into the theater thinking their own personal vision of what theater should be like is clearly the right one,” said Dr. Sedgman, who noted that expectations that audiences will be reverential date only to the 19th century, and that in Shakespeare’s time patrons were famously rowdy.

On the night a few weeks ago when Rihanna visited Broadway to see the edgy “Slave Play,” she texted the playwright, Jeremy O. Harris, during the intermission-free show. Instead of chastising her, he celebrated the exchange on Twitter, saying, “When my idol texts me during a play I’ve written, I respond.”

Predictably, his tolerance of her texting prompted a backlash. But he was unapologetic.

“I’m not interested in policing anyone’s relationship to watching a play ESPECIALLY someone who isn’t a part of the regular theatergoing crowd,” he said on Twitter.

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