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?