In defense of professionalism!

Rules are rules folks! When you choose to attend a performance of theatre or attend a concert you are more than likely greeted with very clear instructions that no photographs are allowed during the performance. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that photography is distracting to the performers and the audience around you. Bottom line: leave your electronics at home, or in your pocket! If you are attending a performance, very few things are more distracting than someone on their phone while you are trying to watch the stage. But, I can think of one thing that's worse...

Patti LuPone made the news this week for yanking a cellphone away from a member in the audience of her show. After doing so she said "We work hard on stage to create a world that is being totally destroyed by a few, rude, self-absorbed and inconsiderate audience members who are controlled by their phones."

Give me a damn break, Ms. LuPone. The blame for that particular situation is slightly lopsided. Instead, I think the response could have just as easily said that actors work hard on stage to create a world that is being totally destroyed by a rude, self-absorbed and inconsiderate performer who is controlled by her ego. In my opinion. the behavior from the two-time Tony winner was about as unprofessional and as tacky as it comes. Why in the hell are people cheering for her!?

You know... I have been on a few stages myself. Many times, I've performed live while an audience member did something they shouldn't have been doing. More times than I can count people take pictures when they aren't supposed to. People text on their phones and distract others. Hell, I've been in a performance where a dumbass had his phone ring, and he answered it and talked! Admittedly, when I have been in concert as myself and didn't need to worry about "breaking character" I have passive aggressively and playfully chided someone for using a phone, but we aren't talking about a concert here. We are talking about a theatrical performance where you are creating a character and a world for the audience to become enveloped in. Breaking character and ruining the show for hundreds is unacceptable. 

When I was performing on Broadway in Spamalot we often noticed audience members taking photos or playing with their phones. If someone was taking pictures, or if the phone usage became distracting, we would tell a stage manager in a moment when we were off stage. The stage manager would promptly send an usher out to solve the problem. Easy as that. On occasion we would find that we weren't off stage or in a position to tell a stage manager when someone was breaking the rules. Do you know what we did then? We, what they call in the business, "got the hell over it." Our jobs weren't to be the damn audience police. 

It reminds me of a conversation I had with the Production Stage Manager of Spamalot once. One evening performance I noticed that the castle that the French Taunter sat atop had a few loose screws. I went to the stage manager after the performance and informed him. He got the situation handled. But, I asked him, out of curiosity, "Frank, what would you do if the turrets had fallen off during a performance? What if they fell of and Rick fell with them? Would you drop the curtain? Would you send someone out to pause the show?" The stage manager replied that he probably wouldn't have done anything. He would have just let the performers figure it out themselves. He said that, unless there's blood, there's almost never a reason good enough to stop the show. 

You'd think that with years in the theatre a professional would know you do your job, not pitch a damn temper tantrum. 

What Ms LuPone has failed to remember is that hundreds of other paying audience members had no idea there was a cell phone being used. Or, as in the case of her breakdown during a performance of Gypsy in 2009, hundreds had no idea there was a photo being taken. They weren't being distracted. They were enjoying the show that they paid to see her perform. They spent their hard earned money to see her act/sing. They didn't come to watch her throw a damn hissy fit.

As a fan of the theatre I am incredibly disappointed that anyone would act like that on stage, especially someone who is supposed to be a "legend". As a professional performer myself, I'm almost more upset that people are celebrating her behavior as if though she is a champion for all performers. Trust me, I know very FEW performers who aren't embarrassed by her antics or turned off by the representation she has become. And lets not kid ourselves, her outbursts aren't doing anything to stop people from bring in their phones. She didn't solve the problem. She just made a caricature of herself and ruined the show for the rest of the audience. 

Maybe I should give Ms. LuPone a break. Maybe she just hasn't got "it" anymore. Maybe she can no longer stay focused enough on her character and her role to actually stay in the moment and complete a performance without worrying about what someone in the front row is eating. But I don't care how much of a legend you may be, coming unhinged should NOT be celebrated. If anyone else had displayed the same type of unprofessional behavior that Patti displayed they would have been fired. They may have even gotten themselves tossed out of Equity. But, let's not kid ourselves. Can anyone even begin to imagine a classy and professional performer like, say, Kristin Chenoweth or Kelli O'Hara acting like a spoiled brat during a performance? No chance.  

Broadway tickets can now cost upwards of $200. Even the cheapest tickets run around $50. These experiences aren't cheap. Many people around the country (and the world, even) save their money for years to be able to make it to NYC to see a show on Broadway. And, often times, they only get to see one in their lifetime. If you are texting and using your phone in anyway, you're damaging the experience for others who may never get another chance. DO NOT DO IT.

Let's have some perspective here: That texter on Wednesday disturbed the people sitting around her for a few minutes. (The rule-breaking photo taker at Gypsy probably disturbed even less).   Patti LuPone, on the other hand, ruined the show and the experience for hundreds more who were completely unaware and who paid for a nice evening at the theatre. For goodness sakes, please stop saying "Good for her!"