The Disconnect: Mobile Phone Bans in the Theatre

An iPhone destroyed my cinematic experience of Alfonso Cuarón’s film, Gravity. My glorious moment of floating in an infinitesimal space with Sandra Bullock was instantly killed by a flashlight from someone who had a co-dependency issue with his mobile phone.

Modern technology is a curse, particularly mobile phones. No doubt it has its advantages in bringing people closer together, yet over time mobile phones have also become a prosthetic limb: an attachment that has – regrettably – supplemented our increasing lack of social skills.

Mobile phones have evolved so fast that people feel compelled to use them everywhere they go, even in places they shouldn’t like the auditorium.

In an ideal world, people should experience a show by completely immersing themselves and cutting out any immediate social interaction.

It was only two months ago that Academy Award winning actor, Kevin Spacey told an audience member, whose phone went off during his performance as Clarence Darrow, ‘If you don’t answer that, I will!” This is just one example for the call for mobile phone bans by cast members, musicians, directors and many more.

Kevin Spacey in his one man show, Clarence Darrow at the Old Vic, 2014

No legal mobile phone ban has been established in the theatre, but have there been any attempts?  One example is Fabien Riggall, founder of Secret Cinema, who said he wanted to ‘create an immersive experience in which the audience becomes part of the narrative’ whilst watching a film.

[At a concert in Gothenburg Concert Hall October 23, 2013, Christian Zacharias stopped playing in the middle of Haydn’s Piano Concerto, interrupted by a cell phone ringing for the second time in the same concert.]

This April, ticket holders for the Secret Cinema showing of The Grand Budapest Hotel had to submit their mobile phones before entering the premises, not only to ensure they receive an immersive experience but also to prevent people from publicizing their secret event on social media.

Secret Cinema event of the Shawshank Redemption, November 2012

However, there are those that have challenged the mobile phone ban and tried to embrace digital technology, such as Odeon, who are identifying ways in which the mobile phone can enhance people’s cinema experience by using iBeacon to provide special offers and downloadable information about films.

The Digital Cinema Media Group has also introduced the app cinime to encourage audiences to play interactive games before the show begins.

The most contentious option is the Tweets seats, which some Broadway theatres have already experimenting with. Tweet seats are reserved seats (usually) allocated at the back of the theatre for audiences who want to live tweet their thoughts.

Tweet seats

The Tweet seats seems to break even and allow those for and against the mobile phone ban to co-exist, yet even then the people sitting in front of the tweet seaters may become irritated by their mobile phone tapping, and possibly offend members of the production.

As much as we have moved miles ahead in the technology space, it still has its drawbacks in encouraging people to be more tuned into social networking sites instead of their immediate reality. Call me traditional, but when I buy a ticket for a show, nothing else exists in my eyes but the stage.  However, I’ll still tweet before and after about it.

Written by Mary Grace Nguyen (Chief – Editor of Flock To The Crown) Read her blog , her LDNCard blog and follow her on Twitter

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