Or to use the alternate title: Ayo, I’m Tired of Using Technology to Solve Problems Which Are Entirely Human Based Errors of Ettiquette, Manners and/or Stupidity. But that was a tad long.
Improper manners seem to be on the rise in theatres; months barely go when there isn’t at least one news story from West End or Broadway about this. Only last week it was Lawrence Fox calling out a heckler, who know what it’ll be next week. One particular epidemic is the use of mobiles in theatres. Whether it’s being used to film a performance, text someone, take a call or just check the time, when I see that little blue screen light up my blood boils. This is basically me:
I’ve been on both sides of the annoyed party: audience member and usher/steward. As an audience member, it wholly takes you out of the play. As a steward, you have to navigate your way through the audience, sometimes to the middle of a row to tell someone off. And then have to return minutes later when they try it again. It’s infuriating, for all those affected: audiences, stewards and in particular actors. Well all remember Patti LuPone’s method for dealing with a mobile menace. But not every actor can confiscate every phone in a theatre. So how do we solve this growing epidemic? Well China has one solution: laser beams.
…not the fatal kind. The red-dot-pointer-when-you’re-doing-a-presentation kind. Or cat-chasing-it-kind.
In a hope to stop patrons using mobiles, ushers are being armed with lasers. When they see an offending screen, they shine the pointer onto the screen to discourage this behaviour. It’s certainly a ‘novel’ idea, which China seems to be abounding in. Theatres also employ jamming technology, which blocks mobile signals meaning no calls or texts can be received. This type of technology is banned in the US, probably with good reason.
But how effective will this laser lesson prove? Those in favour include actors and other performers, who argue that an usher with a laser is less distracting than an usher going to verbally warn a patron. On the other hand, they acknowledge that they can see the laser, still causing a certain level of disruption. And if the actors can see it, that certainly means other audience members can see it too. So we’re back at square one. And just how much of a deterrent is a laser? Will this really stop patrons using their phone? Will they even know what the red dot means? Or will it still lead to the same scenario of an usher having to come down and verbally warn them when they inevitably ignore it?
If it proves effective, we could see this rolled out in West End theatres and US ones. There’s discussion of it already being considered in one West End theatre. In my opinion though, this is only treating the symptom, not the problem itself: poor manners. Whether this is a result of rudeness or ignorance of ettiquette is beside the point. If we want people to stop using phones in theatre, we need to be direct. Have verbal announcements at the start of the show, have ushers go and verbally berate rude patrons. Have consequences for rudeness. With lasers, you are literally shining a light on the problem but in a wholly passive way. We need to be active. Drill it into everyone that mobile phones are not to be used during a performance.
The pen may be mightier than the sword, but I doubt the laser pointer is mightier than the words of an usher.