More theater etiquette

Last night, while enjoying a very rare night off, fellow Jobsiteeer Shawn Paonessa and I decided to have a few post-work pints at New World Brewery. Our bartender, Scott, had attended the show last Thursday. That night we had a rather large group of college ‘kids’ in attendance, and it sort of provoked an etiquette post from me.

We asked Scott what he thought of the show, and without any sort of tipoff or prompting whatsoever, he said he loved the show but the worst part was all the kids around him who sat there texting through the whole show. He said it distracted him horribly and in a way kind of ruined the experience for him.

I hadn’t even thought of that part. Sure, Shawn and I noticed that at the tops and bottoms of acts that blackouts weren’t black due to the sea of blue-tinted faces surrounding us (Shawn even cracked wise that it felt like we were at a Radiohead concert), but I think I’d actually thought it was more people checking the time or starting up a text or their device in general. It hadn’t really occured to me that maybe those people were sitting their with their phones in their faces the whole time until Scott mentioned it.

Then I got to thinking that we don’t actually address that in the curtain speech. Sure, we tell people to turn devices off or onto vibrate so they don’t make noise, but the lit-up screens can be just as distracting during a performance, as can someone’s thumb-fumbling through the show.

After bringing it up to a few others, there are those who reacted that this was pretty obvious, and not something we should have to tell people, but I’m not so sure of that. I’ve read story after story about kids still in primary school or college students who now have a rift with family members due to the younger folks reliance on texting. Two kids in the backseat who are dead silent and just texting back and forth so the adult can hear what they’re talking about, or the same scenario at a dinner table, or just a solo kid in either of the same scenarios or during a family dinner or other sort of family activity.

It’s just become part of the culture, not that it makes it right. It’s no more right to me than drivers who operate a vehicle constantly with one hand on the wheel and the other stuck to their ear. Or the people who scream into their phones while shopping or at the doctor’s office, or the folks who don’t even bother to get off the phone while conducting business at a bank or checkout line and just shove the items at the cashier without even verbally acknowledging them. It’s also no different than the guy who rides my bumper impatiently or cuts me off in traffic. It’s not even much different than the guy walking to the bus stop who throws his empty McDonald’s wrappers into my yard.

Now this may be going out too far, and quite possibly off topic, but is it really that much different than how we move to the furthest reaches of a city for even more privacy and seclusion, and our dependence on driving ourselves across town with no thoughts of carpooling or public transportation? We create bubble after bubble to insulate ourselves, cement the fact that we’re the only ones who really matter and do our damnedest at times to act like we’re the only one who really matters?

Now I’m not saying everyone who lives in a suburb or drives an SUV or sends text messages at the theater or refuses to get off the phone at the bank is an evil, bad human being. But I do think we, as a society, are allowing ourselves to slip further and further down a lonely, self-important path.

And this is precisely why in so many ways theater is NECESSARY in our modern world. In both London after World War II and New York City after 9/11, theaters were among the first businesses that reopened – because we needed that experience. We needed that connection. We needed to feel a part of something greater, something that connected us to one another as individuals and as a society.

Theater can be a mighty form of magic, but even the most mundane form requires attention and respect for it to work. As people attending a show, just because the announcements didn’t say not to do it doesn’t mean it’s ok. Is your action going to disrupt the performance? Is it going to distract the actors or those sitting around you who made a plan to come out and spend money on a ticket maybe wanting some of that magic? For some, going to the theater is a big deal, it’s a treat or reward. For some it may be much more casual, but in either case we should never put ourselves ahead of the experience or the whole of the actor/audience dynamic.

In short, we shouldn’t be putting ourselves in front of everyone else – particularly when we directly do it at the expense of others. I’m a very firm believer in the assertion that a person’s rights end where another person’s begin.

If anything we should really allow ourselves to tune out of the rest of the world for that period of time. Go ahead and turn off every device you have. Give your attention to the stage. Experience. Allow. Connect. You might be really surprised afterwards.



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4 Responses


    Is it so strange that folks like you and I, who grew up with this kind of thing and pretty much sat in the front row during the dawn of the information age, are so anti-technology in many ways? Is it because of our involvement in the theater? I, too, cringe every time I see someone glued to a phone in a check out line or read yet another email from someone who can’t bother to spell out long and cumbersome words like “please.” When it comes to those who text or talk on their cell phones during plays/movies/etc.? Ugh It’s one of the major contributing factors in my reluctance to even go out these days.

  2. I think my biggest fear/complaint is the fact that these patrons/kids/texters are unable to “disconnect” for 2 hours and allow themselves to be absorbed into a story/drama/situation/class outside of their own experience. The belief/idea/behavior that all things are occurring to an individual and must be commented upon immediately by that individual is not only poor theater/classroom/social etiquette it also shows a level of self-absorption that borders on the megalomaniacal.

    These young people need to stop and smell the roses (says the old timer who had her first job working for a dot com back in the mid 90’s). Perspective sometimes needs some time to marinate. Your first reaction is not always your best, or your most interesting, or correct. In a world where you can see how “good” a picture is by immediately looking on the digital screen – waiting to formulate a thought can be a foreign concept.

    And my parents thought I was spoiled because I could get film developed in 1-hour!

    This upcoming generation of “Ys” or “echo boomers” traditionally come from older parents who are more likely to treat their children like the “fertility miracles” that lead to their conception. Many of them are the “finally!” babies born once parents reached a satisfactory point in their career. This translates into parents who treat each moment as a “cherished memory.” Beyond first steps and first words, you are seeing children who are over-programmed with multiple after-school activities, whose ideas are treated like enlightened treatises, and whose wants and desires are tantamount to what might be best for the child. They are beyond cherished, they are exalted. Should we be surprised by their behavior? Not really. Can we be outraged by it’s selfishness and lack of respect? Absolutely. Can I name the culprit? Parents.

    Here’s an idea folks – stop being “cool” and tell your kids to stop texting at the dinner table. If that doesn’t work, stop being “understanding” and take the damn thing away. If that doesn’t work, stop being “someone can look to as a friend, not a parent” and ground their happy ass. Hell I went through a few months of my adolescence with out a door to my bedroom (long story – I’ll tell you over a few beers). I hated my folks, but looking back – I didn’t deserve a door at that point in my life. My parents are two of my best friends – and at 33 that’s a good thing. At 13 – that’s a recipe for disaster.

    Sure I can say all this with the smugness of a woman with no kids. But I also say it with the outrage of a teacher who is constantly slapping cell phones shut while I teach (college level improvisation) to stop the CONSTANT TEXTING!

    All teenagers believe that this is their world and we just live in it. Romeo and Juliet thought they invented love and so does every teenager who figures out how their parts fit into someone else’s parts. We’ve all been there and we’ve all been the bane of someone’s existence while we were there. My grandmother thought I was a flaming a$$hole. And you know what? She was right. The difference? She told me in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t nearly as “cool” as I thought I was.

    I miss my grandma – the next generation needs more like her.

  3. Critus – I think that *because* we grew up to the rise of technology, it makes us the perfect generation to comment on the pitfalls of it all.

    I remember when there was no video game, then PONG, and so on and so forth. I just bought a PS3 on Monday. I remember when there was no cable, then like 24 channels. I now have over 300. I remember when there was no such thing as a personal computer, then I had a mighty 64K processor (64K kids, not MB or GB – 64KAY). I remember when there were no cellphones, then cells that required a backpack or were the size of a tennis racket.

    And we’re not even 35.

    I *hate* that I feel so frickin’ old about the technology sometimes. I write for multiple blogs. I’m on Facebook way too much. But at the same time I make a point to unplug sometimes. It’s good for ya.

    I gotta agree with Kari. It’s the parents. Or, if we want to make it less pointed, it’s just becoming the culture. Sad.

  4. I will be the first to admit that my dad raised me to be a technology geek. He built us our first computer when I was two. He had picked up parts of an Apple (that’s not a Mac kids or even a McIntosh) this was in 1981 or 1982 two or three years before Apple redesigned itself into McIntosh and now to Mac. (does any one remember that superbowl commercial that only aired once?) The monitor, keyboard, and guts were all connected in one unit and there was nothing adjustable about it, except the brightness of the amber letters that would appear. But my parents made damn sure that the only reason I was even anywhere near a computer was to learn something. I was turning in typed book reports in the first grade. Growing up, my siblings and I were required in some way, shape, or form to earn anything nifty and electronic that we wanted. If our parents didn’t deam it worthy or they thought it would make us lazy we were told “no” and they meant it. So many kids today have never been told that and I think that goes back to what Kari said about the bad parenting that seems to be infecting the nations youth. If these kids must read something all the time, why don’t they just pick up a book. It might actually grab their attention long enough to get them interested in something other than themselves and may spark some kind of creative flame and in turn, some damn ettiquite. Didn’t they use to teach that in grade school? (I think they might have called it manners) Has that become a victim of budget cuts too?

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