It’s Time to Stop Recording Live Theatre Performances

The instances of people recording live performances in theatre is getting out of control. I knew that things had reached a crisis point when I read the latest tweet from Audra McDonald. 

“To whoever it was in the audience that took a flash photo during our nude scene today: Not cool. Not cool at all.”

For anyone who may not know Audra McDonald, she’s Broadway royalty. She has won six Tony Awards and more performance wins than any other actor. It would be a surprise to hear that this should happen to any performer, but the fact that it’s happened to Audra during what must have been a stirring performance is quite shocking.

Considering the seasoned performer that Audra is, she most likely didn’t break character, but that’s beside the point. The reality is that this incident is just another in a series of incidents where phones have made an unwelcome appearance during a performance.

One night during Hamilton, Lin Manuel-Miranda whilst performing in the title role noticed a patron was filming and ad-libbed a lyric in the song ‘My Shot’ to call them out:

“Hamilthought, Show #7, 1/16/19 2nd ‘rewrite’:

‘I’m a get a scholarship to King’s College

I probly shouldn’t brag but dag, I amaze & astonish,


I gotta holler just to be heard…’

Please don’t make me do that shit again.”

It’s true that that this an impressive display of spontaneity, but it’s frustrating that more people are breaking one of the few cardinal rules of theatre.

I’m sure we all know that when someone records during a performance, not only is it disruptive to their fellow audience members, but it’s also disrespectful to the actors on stage and risks taking them out of character.

Most theatres will announce that audiences should switch their phones off before the curtain. In the musicals Waitress and On Your Feet for example, the shows’ celebrity creators have recorded playful reminders that phones should be turned off. This message is echoed by ushers and is often on prominent displays. Yet people still do it.

Perhaps the majority do not get out their phones out with malicious intent, but there appears to have been a clear shift in thought patterns. With video content accelerating to viral status at a dizzying pace, it feels as if people are more inclined to keep their phones at the ready to record anything exciting that they see. Just as patrons want to film a concert, or a celebrity sighting, more people are inclined to record a live show.

So is there a solution? An extreme option would be to confiscate all phones before a performance, but that would be a nightmare for ushers to administer. An interesting option which ‘Six’, a concert-style musical, has taken is to encourage patrons to get their phones out only during the finale so that they resist the urge to take photos before that. I’m not sure what the answer is, but without some innovative thinking, it’s unlikely to go away.

My challenge to anyone who is tempted to take pictures or a recording during a performance is this. Live theatre is all about being present. When we take our seats and the room goes dark, there are real people before us committed to telling stories just for us in that moment. If we give them our full attention in real time, that’s when the real theatre magic happens, and we can be transported to any world that the performers choose to lead us to. Let’s savour the experience and capture the memory in our minds, not our phones. There are so few times when we give ourselves the freedom to disconnect from technology, but let’s make theatre the exception.

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