I've been pondering the issue of audience etiquette, and in particular, the mobile phone. It all started when a mobile phone of an audience member sitting in the front row of a local community theatre rang not once, but twice, during the first act of a play. Just days later photos appeared on my Facebook newsfeed of theatre-going friends posting sneaky photos of the stage or, even worse, on-stage action during the show. I understand wanting to share your enthusiasm of being at a show but back in the olden days this could at least wait till you'd actually left the theatre.
With most people carrying phones with an inbuilt camera everywhere they go and wi-fi access in most theatres, what are theatres to do? As a well-behaved audience member who always turns off her phone before the start of the show, I've come up with a few ideas.
Firstly, there is the “community service” approach: as you take your own phone out, loudly tell the people around you, “Gee, I'd better turn my phone off now. I wouldn't want it to ring during the show. Wouldn't that be embarrassing?!” Hopefully others will follow you lead. When it comes to people trying to take those sneaky stage shots to post on Facebook during the show … quietly say, “Quick, you'd better put that away. If you get caught you could have your camera confiscated … or worse still be removed from the building!”
Then there is the “in the know” approach. Before the show starts, as the audience are settling, tell a story to those with you, but loud enough for anyone in adjacent rows to hear you, about how you heard a story where a particular actor stopped the show to have someone with a camera removed. This works best if a) the story is true b) the said actor is actually performing in the current show and c) you've met the actor. If not, make it sound plausible anyway. My story starts with “Anthony Warlow …”
But my final approach is the “if you can't beat em, join em” style. Imagine that ten minutes before a show starts, there is an announcement over the PA system telling everyone, “This is your last chance to take a selfie! Please ensure all selfie photos have been taken, tagged and posted on Facebook. The show will commence in 10 minutes. Please ensure you turn off your phone once you've posted to avoid all those notifications of envious friends commenting on your great photo!”
It's a win-win. The fans get the photo-posting craving out of their system, the show gets some free publicity and the audience have mobile phones in hand waiting to be turned off. It could work couldn't it?