Turn off your Cell Phone at Patti LuPone’s Gypsy

A marquee featuring Patti LuPone.  Photo by Chris Freeland via Flickr

A marquee featuring Patti LuPone. Photo by Chris Freeland via Flickr

On Tuesday, Patti LuPone voiced her own response to David Itzkoff’s NY Times blog post about an incident in which LuPone stopped her performance to confront an audience member who was using an electronic device.  LuPone defended her actions, and those of artists seeking to preserve the integrity of live performance as audiences grow more and more attached to cell phones and iPods.

It is interesting that many of the comments on LuPone’s letter deal with cell phone use (which is disruptive to both performer and audience member alike), while it seems LuPone is mostly incensed about people trying to capture images, audio or video of her performance (which is primarily disruptive to the performer).

Patti LuPone is an established artist who needs to protect the content of her performance from leaking out onto the internet for free.  I’m not saying that’s a bad thing – an actress like Patti LuPone has to be an artist and an athlete in one, training her voice and her body to sustain night after night of live performance, every night producing a pitch-perfect electrifying show that is *worth* the $100 (or $60, or $200) price of admission.  Distracting her and her audience is like casually tossing pool toys in after Michael Phelps.  Just not fair.

Because LuPone is a well-known, well-loved performer, she can get away with screaming at an audience member, and people will STILL buy tickets to see her show.  If a chorus member did such a thing (or the star of a very minor play), their actions might not even be acknowledged by the audience – or the audience might just walk out.  LuPone may well be sticking up for the little guy.  But is her stance against mid-performance texting really beneficial to everyone?  At SILVERDOCS, during a presentation on the future of public media, one speaker asked that everyone turn their cell phones ON, so that folks in the room with web-enabled devices might use Twitter to spread the word about the talk.  I could see a scenario in which a new play would benefit from postitive in-performance tweets (and certainly from tweets, cell phone calls and texts at intermission).

When fans text or tweet at a show, is that offensive, or is it free publicity?

4 thoughts on “Turn off your Cell Phone at Patti LuPone’s Gypsy

  1. Your post reminds me of a similar story I heard about Stephin Merritt reacting to an audience member who didn’t turn their cell phone off before a Magnetic Fields concert a few years ago. I think Merritt and the band left the stage for a bit, if memory serves.

    I think it’s rude to text during events. I understand and have been guilty of the ineluctable draw of immediately sharing something with friends via text or Twitter/Twitpic. But the act itself takes the audience member / viewer outside of the experience and one becomes disengaged – even if for a moment. Can’t we just sit back, relax and experience an event for a little while? See it in context and breathe it in for a little while, think about it before dashing off some stupid or droll comment about it. I think that’s what artists want and the interplay with the audience is just as important to an artist as the performance is.

    I think we’re becoming a generation of fireflies flitting around from one experience to the next not wholly contemplating the information we consume and too busy collecting/referencing/passing on to someone else. I do it, but honestly it’s all beginning to piss me off lately and I’m trying to restrain myself a bit more. 😉

    This Times article, although it concerns phones in meetings, was interesting to me.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/22/us/22smartphones.html?scp=3&sq=etiquette%20&st=cse

  2. I think whether or not it is offensive or free publicity, it should be left to the performer’s discretion or the discretion of the space to determine proper show etiquette. It’s less about offense and more about intellectual property.

    Some performers could encourage the use of web-enabled devices, or merely bits of technology that light up for use instead of the traditional lighters as part of their performance. Bloggers are now invited to conferences to spread the word about the sessions and topics.

    But Lapone’s comments about her creative content being her own property are fair. Venues have for years decried the use of flash photography during the shows because of both the property rights of the performers in their creative pursuits as well as the protection of other audience members against distraction. This request has not met with the same backlash as as has tweeting a performance.

    While it can be free publicity, it is still the performer’s performance. Buying a ticket allows you personal access to their performance, its illegal to tape movies in movie theaters, its sometimes illegal to take pictures in art galleries. I think its their material to disseminate in the manner they choose.

    And not everyone has the financial capability or experience to pick out an individual and hold them accountable for infringement, but a consistent request for respect may be upheld.

    I think it would be interesting to interview someone who has capitalized on this subject in many ways, have you thought of trying to contact Amanda Palmer? She has really embraced social networking to her own gain and maybe has insight into this new way of integrating technologies proliferation amongst her fans into performance.

  3. It depends on the nature of the performance, but in general I think that people should save their texts and tweets for after.

    Glowing sceens and typing motions are distracting and annoying when we’re in a dark theatre, trying to focus on the stage.

  4. Kate – oooh, good article! And I agree, it’s getting harder and harder to enjoy experiences when you have all these ways to document them as they’re happening.

    KJ – Amanda Palmer is definitely on the “dream interview” list – as is Trent Reznor, who has been light years ahead of the game when it comes to using social networking to connect with fans.

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