Those who have any experience as a live performer in the last few years knows what it’s like to deal with cell phones going off in the middle of a performance. For some performers, especially in the classical music world, it’s become a major form of sacrilege to destroy the emotion of a musical moment. In the world of plays, it’s even worse when an annoying ringtone goes off in the middle of an essential scene or piece of dialogue.
With pop and rock concerts, it may not be that much of a problem based on the audio overriding any ringtones anyway. But for live performances that cater to quieter interludes and emotion, how do you handle someone breaking those intense moments with a ringtone that doesn’t stop?
In the last several years, the media has picked up on various cell phone debacles at live performances happening in New York City. In 2012, the New York Philharmonic had one night where a cell phone in the front row wouldn’t stop ringing, despite being told prior to the show to turn it off. Conductor Alan Gilbert stopped the performance and waited until the person finally shut it off. During the interruption, other audience members around the person nearly screamed bloody murder.
Other classical performers have been known to stop their performances when a cell phone rings to wait until it stops. Some famous stage actors have even been known to lash out verbally at the sound of a cell phone going off during pivotal scenes in a play.
Is it really acceptable to stop a performance when a cell phone goes off? Most performers attempt to ignore it so they don’t have to break the mood. Yet, for those that do interrupt a performance, it could easily set the wrong impression if you’re not already an established artist.
If you’re not that well known, stopping a performance might come off by some as being overly dramatic. It’s all going to depend on your audience and how serious the performance actually is. If you’re a musical artist, you’re better off just ignoring it as much as you can. Should you be in charge of the venue, hire a few ushers to take charge and address the problem so you don’t have to interrupt anything.
Another route is to turn the tables on the cell phone problem and make it a part of the performance. While it might be more challenging to do that during a music performance, there’s some ways to do it so it brings laughs rather than drama.
Making an expression that shows you’re aware of the cell phone can sometimes say as much as stopping and glaring in condemnation or making a statement. While it’s never been tried before, you could even play some musical cues that go along with the ringtone. By doing that, you can bring a big laugh and give the cell phone offender more than a hint.
During a play, you could always slip in a line that refers to the cell phone rings without breaking character. Some stage actors have already done that, though not many. Only do this if you have some experience in the art of improv so you can bring a zing that brings laughs rather than darkening any set mood.
These tactics may have to become future protocol as cell phones continue to be a problem at live events. Naturally, you want to mention to turn cell phones off before the performance. This may have to be done repeatedly and not in a typical way that may get ignored by those too busy looking at their smartphones.