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.