Recently, there’s been a fair amount of handwringing over how 21st century digital distractions like the internet, blackberries, and cell phone cameras have obliterated good manners during live performances. Of course, two audience beratings by Broadway star Patti Lupone in six months are likely to kick up a fire about theater etiquette. (BTW, if the idea of a rabid New York stage legend shrieking “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?” at some poor sap with a phone cam sounds funny, well, the reality is even funnier. I approve of recording devices in the theah-tuh if they capture priceless stuff like this).
After many years of covering North Texas shows, I’ve had thankfully few experiences with serious, attention-spoiling audience misdemeanors. One of the more memorable happened just recently in the 817 – and no, the violations weren’t committed by some entitled twentysomething brat with text-atrophied thumbs and an attention span Twittered down to a gnat’s. The combined age of the guilty couple had to be at least 150. Sitting two rows ahead and to my right, they kept leaning their silver-haired heads in together and exchanging commentary on the show: “That was lame.” “Who made that costume?” “It’s cold in here.” “How long before intermission?” “I don’t know, it’s not my show.” They were casually chatting aloud as they probably do in front of their living room TV. A headline occurred to me: “Television is Spoiling Our Seniors.”
No biggie, right? Except that when some patrons in front of them turned their heads around visibly and smiled – in a polite gesture that said, “I can hear you” – the woman scrunched her face into a bratty, squinty, pouty expression whose message was clear: “Fuck you, I’ll talk if I want to.” Her hubby laughed in approval. This happened three times, and they continued chatting. My blood was boiling, but my good breeding always kicks in at moments like this –. I struggled with whether to flag the offenders’ attention so I could deliver a silent but more direct hint using my middle digits.
By the start of the second act, the issue resolved itself – the cretinous couple had moved down to the far side of the darkened theater, where they were surrounded by more empty seats than ticketbuyers. But the experience reminded me of something: Don’t blame Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or any other digital pioneers for public discourtesy. Obnoxious people will find a way with or without the latest technology.