(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 7/24,7/31.)
Does the Audience Need an Outlet?
I don't know if this actually happened, though I've been assured it did. Back in the ancient time when cellphones were still clamshells, an excellent actor whom I'll call T. was performing a one-character play, with a densely written and extremely convoluted text, in a small downtown theater that required him to work at close quarters with the audience. At one performance, the cellphone of a woman in the front row rang and she answered it. T. reached down, took the phone away from her, and said into it, "She can't talk to you now, she's watching a play." He then snapped the phone shut and tossed it to the house manager, receiving a hearty round of applause from the rest of the audience.
"There is another world," said the mystical poet and playwright W.B. Yeats, "but it is in this one."
Yeats, who died in 1939, probably wasn't foreseeing the multifaceted Internet world that smartphones and other handheld electronic devices open up for us, nor was Patti LuPone pondering the expansiveness and variety of that world when, in early July, she sparked a minor media sensation by gently removing a cellphone from the hands of an audience member who'd been busily scrolling during a key scene of LuPone's performance in the current Shows for Days at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. LuPone, who has expressed herself strongly on the subject of intrusive cellphones on previous occasions, was simply trying to do what any actress worth her salt would do: make the audience pay attention.
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