Clashes between artists and technology-wielding patrons are increasing in intensity. Actress Patti LuPone recently grabbed a cellphone out of a startled audience member's hand as LuPone was making her grand exit at Lincoln Center in New York, where she is appearing in a play. When texting before a diva, beware the aisle seat.
The vast majority of actors, dancers, comedians and musicians are annoyed at the sea of screens on which their art now invariably floats. But not every annoyed performer goes for the nuclear option favored by LuPone, who once famously stopped in the middle of a big number in "Gypsy" to unleash a tirade upon an audience member for taking photographs.
Comedian Amy Schumer favors a sisterly "no recording, sweetie" interjected into her act, and Sarah Silverman prefers to brandish a withering brand of sarcasm in an attempt to shame the offending party. But many artists admire Zero-Tolerance Patti and wish they had her clout and guts.
Even those of us hardened to watching audience members try and fail to wean themselves from their electronic devices were amazed by another story to emerge from New York in recent days. At the Broadway play "Hand to God," an audience member climbed up onto the stage and plugged his cellphone into one of the outlets in the walls of the church-basement set.
The patron was apparently oblivious to the fact that most outlets on stage sets do not actually dispense electricity, and he certainly was not troubled by the social contract that keeps the audience off the stage. Set designer Beowulf Boritt told Vanity Fair that the incident might give him pause if he ever was considering putting a toilet on stage.
There is reason to be skeptical about the story. People do all kinds of things to get attention, including climbing onto a Broadway stage. And given the past marketing prowess of the producer of the play, Kevin McCollum, it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility that the whole thing was a stunt. "Hand to God," which is trying to gain a foothold at the box office, has scored so much ink from the errant-charger story that the producer really should buy the guy a new iPhone. With a portable power pack.
Still, the incident is an interesting reminder of the pervasiveness of charge-anxiety. Many of the people laughing at the "Hand to God" guy have, in fact, charged their own phones in all kinds of inappropriate locales — on top of emergency equipment, beyond Do Not Enter doors, in someone else's private space, behind a bar next to the piña colada machine.
I've been guilty of all four. Just this week. Why is a stage set more sacrosanct than a fire extinguisher? (It's not).
A dead phone causes anxiety — even, in some circumstances, desperation. And who can enjoy anything these days with an uncharged device in your pocket?
Arts organizations and venues are going to have to confront that new insecurity, even if they wish they could just ban those pocket attention-pullers entirely. If the arts are serious about catering to the needs of their customers, and if they wish to break down as many of those old barriers as possible, they are going to have to install charging stations in their lobbies or beneath their seats. Airlines and hotels have already figured this out: to relax means to be charged. Restaurants are confronting the same issue.
We've already seen the consequences of ignoring this truth — a man in search of juice jumping right into an imaginary world.
At least he believed in the power of art.
Withering Glance took the weekend off. Look for it next Sunday.