Let’s stamp out mobile phone usage in theatre with a zero tolerance policy

Theatre Producer Adam Gale has this week reported to The Stage, that during a performance of A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic Theatre, he was hit after asking a woman sat next to him to put her phone away. The Stage said “Adam Gale, from New York, alleges he was “hauled” out of his seat during the interval of A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic and struck with a closed fist, following an altercation that happened during the first act of the play.”

Mobile phone use during theatre performances is a problem that seems to be getting worse and worse. Theatregoers seem unable to live without their phones for an hour and insist of shining their bright lights to distract the people sitting around them, just so they can update their Facebook status.

The question is whether audience members should confront these badly behaved people and ask them to stop, or leave them to get on with it. I myself have had several experiences with asking people to stop talking or stop using their mobile phone which has sadly been met by anger and retaliation on their side. I have been grabbed and threatened for asking a man to be quiet and had a group of girls kick the back of my chair throughout the show and throw popcorn at me for asking them to be quiet. So sadly these days I am less inclined to say something.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. It should be the job of the Theatre Ushers to be vigilant at all times during each performance and survey their areas looking for any signs of distracting activity.

Earlier this year, at a performance of The Girls, two women sat next to me were on their phones throughout the entire first act of the show. They were obviously Gary Barlow fans and had no real interest in the show itself and to be fair probably didn’t know the rules of theatre etiquette. I spent the whole show watching the usher, watching the show. At no point did she look at the audience to check everything was ok. I complained to her about this and said the girls (who were sat on the end of the aisle and so easy to see and speak to) should have been spotted and told to turn their phones off but she was too busy watching the show to notice.

It isn’t enough to make an announcement at the beginning of the show, asking people to turn their phones off. There needs to be consequences if people use their phone as it distracts the audience and the actors on stage and now we are getting to the point where violence is breaking out which needs to be avoided.

My experience at The Girls resulted in my being offered free tickets to see the show again. I declined the offer and requested they use the cost of the tickets towards training their staff to do their jobs. It is time we crack down on this issue and stamp out mobile phone usage in theatres. If you are seen using your phone, you should be asked to leave the auditorium and not return. This should be in the terms and conditions of ticket purchases and be announced before each performance. We need a zero tolerance policy on this issue to make it go away.