“Oh, crap. My phone has run out of battery. Never mind, I don’t need my phone for the next few hours because I’m about to watch a play and be entertained by people.”
That’s what this fool should’ve thought the other day as he went into a Broadway play. Alas, he didn’t. Instead, he joined the legions of appalling audience members that continue to plague actors.
Ok, ok. That sounds a bit harsh. Now, don’t get me wrong. Actors would be lost without an audience. Without them, we’d just be prancing around for the hell of it. That’s not performing, that’s just a Wednesday night in your bedroom. And you can’t put that on your CV. Believe me, I’ve tried.
But I can pretty safely say that all actors have an audience horror story. From the late Richard Griffiths ordering a woman out of the auditorium because her phone went off to to Patti Lupone stopping mid-performance to yell at an audience member for taking photos (something which, rather ironically, was audio-recorded and uploaded here…)
Then there are the stories of couples having sex in auditoriums. And, of course. Who doesn’t get turned on by a good proscenium arch and a cracking safety curtain?
So what is wrong with audiences? Is it that we now watch too much TV and are so used to shuffling and eating and chattering through a whole box set? Are we all so ridiculously important that even a couple of hours in a theatre can’t do without us blustering about? And heaven knows, theatre is trying to keep up. Tweeting seats, immersive productions and even online streaming of productions so you can still prat about at home without worrying that your decision to eat a whole family bag of Doritos is putting off the actors. And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe audience members just don’t know the line anymore? Sometimes they're being expected to get up and be involved and other times they're expected to sit still for hours on end in stony silence.
The optimistic actor in me (that’s the one that applies for acting jobs and puts ‘running’ as a skill on my CV…) likes to think that it’s because the audience become so engrossed in our performance. Your parading on stage as a demonic horse (yep, I’ve played that role) is so mesmerising that they forget they sound like a horse eating a multipack of Hula Hoops. I want to believe that, I really do. But I’ve been performing while a man sighed so heavily that I nearly blew off stage so, sorry optimistic actor, I think you’re wrong.
So is it audiences being rude or, as actors, do we need to stop being so precious? Historically, theatre audiences were far more boisterous. I’m sure Nell Gwynne was up against far more than someone’s phone going off or a quick fumble in the front row. As actors, do we need to just get on with it? Or should an audience member's rudeness be addressed for all to see? Like being asked by your teacher to share your little joke with the past, is it right to call these things out? Do we owe the rest of the audience a flawless performance or, actually, do they love being part of this confrontation?
But going back to our man in Broadway...y'know, sometimes we need our phones in the theatre. What if we can’t afford the programme but we need to know what we’ve seen whatshername in before. Have you tried concentrating on Coriolanus while you try and why you work out thingy carrying the stick? And what about those terrible plays? No, you don’t need a phone because you’re going to be that guy, sat in the back row with your face lit up like a Glo Worm toy. But, dammit, watches are stupidly hard to see in the dark. Just a quick sneak to see what….OH GOD, HOW HAS ONLY 20 MINUTES PASSED?
So, here are a few little rules…
1.) Leave that bag of Salt & Vinegar McCoys at home
2.) If step 1 is too difficult then learn the valuable art of sucking crisps.
3.) Check your phone is on silent
4.) If step 3 is too difficult then cut all ties with your friends and family before heading out
5.) Remember the set is not for you. Actors don’t just randomly walk into your places of work to use your things, so don’t do the same to us.
6.) If step 5 is too difficult then I think being outside might be more your thing.