Welcome to The Varley Factor, BroadwayWorld.com's newest ongoing blog series from Creative Director, Eddie Varley. Look for 'The Factor' to bring you Varley's unique brand of commentary on all things theatrical... Get ready Broadway!
So we all know what happened at A STEADY RAIN last Wednesday night thanks to TMZ and YouTube. A member of the great unwashed didn't turn off his cell phone and it went off during the performance. It rang and rang and rang and rang....
Stars Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig were not amused, they stayed in character, but broke the fourth wall and called the gent out - inexplicably the offending audience member did not turn off the phone until it caused a stir for several minutes.
This isn't really a shock sadly, because theatre audiences are just as bad as any of those delightful groups who talk back to the movie screen at a horror film or throw beer at those below at a sporting event when goes awry for the home team - I'm talkin' about you Mets fans.
But I really shouldn't point the arrow of bad manners just at those easy targets, no, I should simply point it straight up and let it strike where it may strike, because as Sweeney sings, "They all deserve to die."
Going to a Broadway show doesn't mean what it used to mean these days, the sacred joy of sitting in a darkened theatre watching a real live human being weave a story while sitting next to a real live human has been lost. I only say this because I'm seeing it time and time again as I settle into my seat as the house lights dim, it is then dear reader that the real drama begins...
Every show starts the night out by requesting that the audience turn off their cell phones, some do it with gentle humor, some with snark, but all do it. Yet, that audience member at A STEADY RAIN didn't take the few moments to turn their phone off and because of that, here I type my tale of audience woe.
Several months ago I went to a performance of GOD OF CARNAGE, and right away I knew the woman next to me was trouble. My keen eye caught the bottle of Stoli tucked into her glittery Prada knockoff. Once house the lights dimmed she started her own personal "Happy Hour", thirty minutes into the show (I LOVED it by the way) the booze kicked in and she started swooning and humming Billy Joel. After her second encore of 'Piano Man' our darling Ms. Charisma leaned back and passed out, snoring for the rest of the evening. Ah the magic of the Great White Way!
A number of years ago I went to see a matinee of The Wedding Singer. The couple next to me brought along a complete picnic dinner from KFC, while Felicia Finley tore the house down with "Let Me Come Home" the two winners next to me presented an ongoing verbal narration of the events taking place on the stage between bites of the Colonel's secret flavor recipe of 11 herbs and spices.
"She's singing 'bout her loving him, what a tramp that Linda is - can I have another breast hun?"
They couldn't just take a wee bit of time before the show to grab a quick bite. No, audiences for the most part seem to have lost the skill of surrendering to something. People cannot just "let go" and enjoy the moment. What makes a person feel that they must be in constant contact with someone?
The real kicker to all this scandal is that the video that captured Jackman's "in the moment" remarks was itself taken from a cell phone that was ON! Is there an answer? Can there be a return to respect when it comes to the live arts? All this reminds me of a great story I heard about a comedian who was doing his act when a very loud phone rang and knocked him off his stride. The famous funny man turned to the audience, stood perfectly still and announced over the ringing, "That better be about a kidney transplant."
So I guess the only solution to this epidemic is to make sure to get the "Extra Crispy" family meal and turn my ringer on loud before I head in to enjoy The Royal Family, hey if ya can't beat 'em, join 'em!