Take a picture or take a stand? The on-going problem of mobiles phones in theatre

Did any of you happen to see the news piece with Dame Judi Dench in The Telegraph yesterday? The acting legend, who is currently starring in The Winter’s Tale at the Garrick Theatre as part of the Kenneth Branagh season, spoke in it of the changes she’s seen in British theatre over the course of the many years she has spent performing on stage in London’s West End, opining that preview performances and more casual dress codes are a few aspects of the industry that have changed for the better.

Another aspect that has most decidedly changed for the worse however is the growing dependence audiences have on mobile devices, as noted by Dame Judi in regards to her most recent West End stage appearance when she revealed how she is often distracted on stage by audience members taking photographs mid-performance. She is quoted in the Telegraph article as saying:

I can’t see well, but what I can see is red lights all over the theatre, and I know that’s people taking photographs. It’s a kind of oblivion to other people.

I read the article and my first thought – past the initial torrent of silent swearing – was that I am so f***ing fed up of this!

I am fed up of the constant lack of respect for the cast members up there on that stage, and I am fed up of the stupidity, and the complete and utter ignorance shown by these audience members. Yes, we are living in a technological age, and it would be naïve to expect that the addiction to modern gadgets is going to wane with time, but seriously people…does it have such a tight grip that you are now incapable of spending a couple of hours without that phone fix?

Dame Judi Dench is just the latest in a long line who’ve highlight this issue in our theatres, with such other actors as Kevin Spacey, James McAvoy and Benedict Cumberbatch all having previously spoken out against the use of mobiles during performances. It’s a problem that affects both the on-stage performers and other audience members, the ones that actually respect the code of theatre etiquette. Unfortunately, it’s also a problem that probably isn’t going to be solved any time soon.

Today’s society is split into two groups: those who watch life through the screen of a phone and those who are actually there in the moment and living it. We see it every day, people missing out on so many beautiful and memorable moments because they’ve got their face stuck behind a phone, and the sad thing is that they don’t even realise what they’re missing.

I go to the theatre because I love how it makes me feel. It offers the chance to totally immerse yourself in another world, but it’s impossible to surrender yourself to the magic of that experience if you’re fiddling about with your phone taking pictures or filming the performance. If you want to remember the show…WATCH IT! If you need a physical memory then buy a damn programme to take home with you. To fully appreciate live theatre, you have to live it. If you’re going to a show with the intention of getting photos or a sneaky video to put up on YouTube, then it really wasn’t worth buying a ticket in the first place as you have clearly misunderstood what the theatre experience is really about.

Aside from ruining your own enjoyment of the show, you’re ruining it for the audience members sat around you too… the people who, just like the cast on stage, are being pulled out of that wonderful world of make-believe by  the glare of a mobile phone screen or the flash of a camera. You have the right to make that choice for yourself – however wrong it is – but what right do you have to take that choice away from others?

We make jokes about phones being physically attached to hands, but as people grow evermore reliant on technology and advances continue to be made in the industry, I’m sure there will come a day when we actually will be able to have our phones physically attached to us. That day is not today though, so put away your phones every now and then, please! Life is just a series of moments and each one passes so quickly, so why not revel in the joy of that moment instead of trying to capture it? That’s the best memory you could ever make. If that’s not enough for you though, then perhaps the theatre is not the place for you. I’m sure my fellow theatre-goers would agree you’d probably be much happier if you stayed home sending funny cat videos to your friends and feeding your self-indulgence by taking ‘selfies’ instead … I know we would be.

By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25

Tuesday 10th November 2015

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