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Sep. 30 2019

Taking a stand against that phone in your hand, or, thank you, Ms. Mutter!

By Dyana Neal | Posted in Host Blogs | 1 Comment

It’s very difficult to keep an arts organization afloat these days. From the largest concert halls and opera houses to “small theater” companies and chamber music ensembles that perform in schools or churches, everyone worries about how to attract and retain audiences. Then there’s the fact that ticket prices cover only a portion of operating costs, so organizations must court donors ever more fervently to stay solvent. Naturally, no one wants to offend paying customers, much less the “angels” whose largesse might help ensure an organization’s future! Unfortunately, one method by which all too many venues are attempting to address their financial predicaments is “meeting audiences where they are” regarding the use of tech devices during performances, or turning a blind eye when attendees do so against a theater’s clearly stated policies. Since most of us have smartphones these days, some of you may wonder why it’s so annoying that certain audience members choose to use them during an arts event. Movie theaters, you’re part of this conversation, too! Here’s what Yours Truly has observed, more than once:

If a venue allows still photography before and after a show, some people hear that as “please take pics the whole time,and tweet/text/post, too!”

When still photography is permitted during a show, some people take that as license to film the entire performance – never mind that the folks seated behind them will have an excellent view of their phones the whole time, but will have an obstructed view of the stage, if they even get that. Who wants to watch in real time, anyway?

Then there are those who believe that policies prohibiting photography, filming, texting, tweeting, and posting apply to Everyone But Them.

I’ve read innumerable Facebook threads and blog posts on this topic and have participated in a few such discussions. As you might have guessed, I come down very firmly on the side of No Tech During The Show. (Also No Talking During The Show. Until the applause has died down, no one cares what you think of the soloist’s outfit. Trust me – not even the person you came to the performance with.) I also have a musician friend who has been known to read scores on a device during symphony concerts, but doesn’t bring that up around me too often – apparently Mezzo Side Eye is painful.

Various performers – Broadway stars Lin-Manuel Miranda, Patti LuPone, comedians Dave Chapelle and Pete Davidson, conductor Alan Gilbert, and many others – have stopped their shows due to audience members’ inconsiderate cell phone use. As of this past weekend, another star has taken that route – violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter.


If we’d been in the audience for Ms. Mutter’s recent Cincinnatti performance, my husband and I would have applauded so loudly afterwards that our hands would probably still be sore. Had we deeper pockets, the CSO would have gotten a huge donation from us this morning. As the Marquise de Merteuil says of the Chevalier Danceny in Dangerous Liaisons, we are among “those rare eccentrics who come here to listen to the music.”

Some venues have adopted a rather forceful method of temporarily keeping people off their phones: https://www.wsj.com/articles/theaters-new-way-to-silence-cellphones-lock-them-up-11569679200 Paisley Park, Prince’s former home and recording complex in Chanhassen, MN, now a museum, uses such pouches. When I visited Paisley with friends in 2017, I will admit it felt a bit odd at first to have our phones locked away while we toured the facility, but I also noticed that everyone in our party was listening intently to everything the docent said and asking intelligent questions. Would that have been the case if we’d all been taking selfies with Prince’s guitars and checking in on Facebook? Doubtful.

I love technology and use it all day long, probably more than I should. Or course, I also welcome your thoughts on the use of devices in theaters and concert venues, so please feel free to post a comment – unless you’re sitting next to me at a show as you’re reading this. (J/K. Maybe.)

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Dyana is WBJC's midday host. Her full bio can be read here.

One Response to Taking a stand against that phone in your hand, or, thank you, Ms. Mutter!