What Audience Behavior Do You Find Most Annoying?

July 12, 2015

Whether a performer is acting, doing comedy, singing, playing an instrument or dancing before a live audience, he or she hopes to get absorbed in the material and to some degree forget people are observing. But how can a performer focus well when an audience member is continually talking, checking texts, or hasn’t turned off the ringer on a cellphone?

Well, Broadway veteran Patti LuPone has had enough of rude audience behavior! During a recent evening performance in New York City, she was distracted by a member of the audience who was texting while the Tony Award-winning actress was attempting to sing her heart out. “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. They cannot put them down,” LuPone said in a statement to Playbill.com.

So how did LuPone handle the situation? Remaining true to her character while playing the role of an artistic director, she keenly found an opportunity to make a dramatic statement. That is, at the part where she normally interacts with people who are sitting in the front row, the 66-year-old actress instead headed toward the woman who was holding the glowing LED screen. “I shook her hand with one hand and took her phone with the other. Took it. I didn’t grab. I thought, ‘Holy s*@#, that was easy,'” she said to the New York Daily News.

LuPone confessed, “I am so defeated by this issue that I seriously question whether I want to work on stage anymore. Now I’m putting battle gear on over my costume to marshall the audience as well as perform.” Indeed, this is not the first time the famous actress has confronted an audience member. In 2009, she stopped the show mid-song in the musical Gypsy. “Stop taking pictures right now! You heard the announcement. Who do you think you are?!” She demanded, and was met with enthusiastic claps from some in the audience.

There seems to be a steady stream of complaints from performers about inconsiderate behaviors originating from just one or two of those present who negatively impact the majority of viewers and the performers. During a particularly intimate and poignant scene in A Steady Rain, Hugh Jackman stopped mid-scene when a cell phone repeatedly rang; staying in character he told the offending person to answer his or her phone. In another instance, conservative writer Kevin Williams reacted to a woman’s speaking on her cell phone during a performance by taking it and chucking it across the New York theater and into the curtains. And earlier this month, just before the production started, a man in the audience tried to charge his phone using a fake on-stage electrical outlet at Broadway’s Hand to God. In turn, an announcement was made for the owner of the phone to come retrieve his phone. Now that’s a walk of shame! With the advent of modern technology, ushers are increasingly being put in the tricky position of policing paying customers over what would seem to be clearly unacceptable behavior for a theater setting.

So, in your experience, what has bothered you the most: Clapping or yelling out at inappropriate times, excessive coughing or talking, camera flashes, late entrances or early departures, someone shushing too loudly, or maybe seemingly endless crinkling of plastic packaging? And what do you think is the best way to handle these situations?