In Defense of Common Courtesy, or Why I Can't Support Dave Itzkoff's Blog Anymore

Let's play a game. I'm going to post a quotation from Dave Itzkoff's NYTimes blog, and you tell me where, exactly, the disconnect is between his perception and the reality of live performance:

Just when we were starting to remember Patti LuPone as a luminescent if detail-oriented theater star — and not, say, the sort of person who brings an entire show to a halt when she catches an audience member snapping photographs of her — she goes and does it again.

Have you figured it out yet? Patti Lupone did right away:

Your story about my stopping my concert in Las Vegas on the New York Times ArtsBeat blog was forwarded to me.

I found the tone of your report very snide and feel compelled to write you to ask – what do expect me, or any performer for that matter, to do?

Do we allow our rights to be violated (photography, filming and audio taping of performances is illegal) or tolerate rudeness by members of the audience who feel they have the right to sit in a dark theater, texting or checking their e-mail while the light from their screens distract both performers and the audience alike? Or, should I stand up for my rights as a performer as well as the audiences I perform for?

And do you think I'm alone in this? Ask any performer on Broadway right now about their level of frustration with this issue. Ask the actor in Hair who recently grabbed a camera out of an audience member’s hand and threw it across the stage. Or ask the two Queens in Mary Stuart (Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer) how they react to it.

There are a few issues at play here.

1) Safety: it's hard enough to account for safety of performers, crew, pit, and audience during a live performance; any number of things can go wrong with the set (just look at all the horrifying stories of accidents in The Little Mermaid, Xanadu, and Cats) or props (I almost got whacked upside the head during In My Life when a cane's handle snapped off and whizzed by my face) that the last thing we, as an audience, need to do is add additional light and noise that can distract these hard-working professionals from safely completing their jobs for our entertainment.

2) Manners: do you get mad when people text at the movies? How about those idiots that scream back at the screen "Don't go in there" or just won't shut up? What about people illegally videotaping the film to then sell on the streets? Doesn't that just boil your blood? Same with theater, people, only its more rude. On Broadway, you're spending 50+ dollars to sit in the back row of the top mezzanine where a support post is blocking half the damn stage. The last thing you want to do is disrespect your fellow theater goers with distracting antics in the audience. How about the poor performers competing with private conversations, phone calls, and texts? How do you think they feel seeing audience members (and, even with the initial blinding from stage lights, you do adjust and gain the ability to see the audience, for better or worse) who could seemingly care less about their work? It's rude. Don't be.

3) Intellectual Property Rights: Lupone spelled that out quite clearly: illegally recording, taping, or photographing a show is a violation of all the laws we put into effect in this country to protect our rights to create.

To put it clearer for you, Itzkoff, what you berated Patti Lupone for is the equivalent of you getting mad for someone stealing your written work. If I just copied all of your blog posts to my website without crediting you, how would you react? Would you just let it slide and pretend I did nothing wrong because you don't want to risk speaking up and being criticized? Or would you and the backing of the NYTimes use every avenue you have to punish me for criminal behavior that detracts from the value of your original work.

To paraphrase Kathy Griffin: I don't show up to your job and steal the words out of your mouth.

People, I work for a high school theater program. You best believe that my house staff is trained to eject people from the theater who won't shut up or stop texting. I've left the pit (it's not actually a pit, we slouch down in front of the stage to minimize visual obstruction) before when not playing to stop people from doing that. It's rude. It's unacceptable. And it really needs to stop.

Special thanks to Playbill.com and the wonderful Patti Lupone for inspiring this angry post. God bless ya.