Before the age of mobile phones, perhaps the worst distraction for a theater actor would be an audience member coughing at a crucial moment in the performance.
Today, despite numerous warnings to switch smartphones off before a show begins, actors have to deal regularly with the excruciating annoyance of handsets suddenly going off.
Imagine: “To be or not to be, that is the — RIIIINNGGGG!!! RIIIINNNGGGG!!!”
News from the BBC this week suggests the situation has taken a turn for the worse, with people now happily following the trials and tribulations of their World Cup soccer team while sitting in the front row of a theater during a show.
It happened on Tuesday, July3 at the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, U.K., during a performance of Titanic: The Musical just as England embarked on a nail-biting penalty shootout against Colombia for a place in the quarter finals of the soccer tournament. And worse than simply watching the shootout, they celebrated each England penalty success with an enthusiastic “yesss!” … and fist pumps.
Whereas 15 years ago all actors would likely do about such an interruption was grumble in the dressing room, now they can take to social media to vent their anger.
And that’s exactly what they did.
One of the show’s performers, Niall Sheehy, hit Twitter to let everyone know what had happened, describing the two soccer fans as “the most ignorant audience members I have ever had the misfortune to perform in front of.”
To the two women in the front row tonight who not only followed the penalty shootout on their phone, but also said “yesss” on each goal scored, you are the most ignorant audience members I have ever had the misfortune to perform in front of.
— Niall Sheehy (@niallsheehy) July 3, 2018
In another, Sheehy was even more incredulous, telling the pair to “avoid attending any future theatrical productions.”
And when a cast member signalled “put your phone away” during the bows and you smiled, gave a thumbs up and replied “I know – we won!!”, I think you may have let us all know you are the stupidest woman on the planet. Please avoid attending any future theatrical productions.
— Niall Sheehy (@niallsheehy) July 3, 2018
That apparently caused him some social media strife, prompting another post:
Has a tweet ever been blown more out of proportion?
My phrasing may have been too aggressive re: the audience members. For that, I happily apologise, but I stand by my opinion that they were inconsiderate to others in the audience.
How any of this is newsworthy is crazy!
— Niall Sheehy (@niallsheehy) July 5, 2018
Another actor in the show, Kieran Brown, said he was “dumbfounded” that the two women could behave in such a way during one of the show’s most poignant moments.
Dumbfounded. 2 ladies, 1 older 1 middle aged, slap bang front row clearly watching football on phones during the most poignant moment of lifeboats scene, cheering & giggling like stupid schoolgirls. To say I’m raging is an understatement! They should be marched out in disgrace!
— Kieran Brown (@Kierbro) July 3, 2018
The theater also weighed in, apologizing to both the actors and to any audience members who may have been distracted by the front row shenanigans.
We’re sorry to hear that two audience members last night showed such disrespect by watching their phone during a performance, not only to the actors on stage but also to other audience members. Our stewards are always vigilant, but we also rely on people using their common sense https://t.co/IQGGISvnJD
— TRCH (@RoyalNottingham) July 4, 2018
The incident brings to mind a similar episode in 2014 when an audience member’s phone started ringing during a play featuring Kevin Spacey. The actor, who was on stage for a courtroom scene, reportedly stayed in character and barked at the culprit, “If you don’t answer that, I will.”
Someone’s noisy phone even halted a performance by the New York Philharmonic, while in 2015 actor Benedict Cumberbatch pleaded with audience members to stop filming him when he was on stage.
Pointing out that some smartphone users seem to spend much of their time experiencing one-off events through their smartphone display rather than enjoying them without holding their handsets in front of their face, Cumberbatch said, “I can’t give you what I want to give you, which is a live performance that you’ll remember, hopefully, in your minds and brains whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent, rather than on your phones.”