I have a bit of a pet peeve.
It starts out small. The light in the corner of your eye, just for an instant, you can't even be sure it was there. Then again. Then another one, in a different place. Then the unmistakable tinkling sound, followed by a whispered "shit!" and the sound is suddenly cut off.
Cellphones in the theater.
I feel this way about both the movies and more conventional theaters, where I go to see plays. They aren't always great works, and sometimes not even very good, but dammit, I am there to watch the movie/play and it is SO DISTRACTING.
This was my experience at a play this past September 11.
The show was called 110 Stories, and was basically a bunch of actors with scripts reading the true accounts of people who were at the World Trade Center during the attack on September 11, 2001. For me, this is kind of a tough show to see in the first place. No, I wasn't in New York, I was in Northern Virginia, at school, and my dad was in Crystal City at a hotel for a meeting, pretty much across the street from the Pentagon. Please, no one share their ridiculous conspiracy theories at this point. Yes, THERE WAS A PLANE IN THE BUILDING. It was harrowing, and scary, and most of the day was spent watching the incessant footage on the news and worrying about our parents, many of whom worked in DC or the Pentagon, and who had a really hard time getting home. It felt like 9/11 happened to me. To my community. I think it felt closer to those of us in Virginia, DC, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, than anywhere else in the country. There were close calls for a lot of my friends' parents, one of whom was supposed to be at the World Trade Center that day, but had finished a day early and come home. I still well up with tears sometimes when I think about it. And there I was, twelve years later, listening to the harrowing experiences of the people in New York.
Or at least, trying to.
Because two seats down, some older gent was on his phone. I guess he was expecting a text or something, because he kept turning on the screen and looking at it, then putting it down. Every five to ten minutes. Finally, some wonderful, blessed soul leaned over and in a voice exactly as annoyed as I felt, asked him to stop. He did, very apologetically.
Then the girl on the other side of me fell asleep. She woke up about two thirds of the way through, and started texting. Seriously. Not even trying to hide it. Eventually she got up and left. Before the show was even over. It had gotten to the denoument, there wasn't that much time left! But I guess she didn't really want to be there. I guess neither she nor that other guy respected the actors or their fellow audience members enough to turn their phones off and disconnect from the outside world for two hours.
That's one of the things I love about going to the theater, to any theater. I can disconnect. Maybe my rage was an overreaction, but I always get distracted by those little screens lighting up in the corner of my eye. Guess what? Unless you're a doctor, it's not that important. If someone is on their deathbed, you should be there, not at a theater. I know there are plenty of people out there who don't see the big deal. "So what?" you may ask, "We live in a social, connected society now, this is the way it is. I want to tweet about how jiggly the camera is!" But what you may not understand, is that some people go to the theater for a cathartic experience. I know the producer had a catharsis during 110 Stories, because he was so full of emotion by the end of the show that he was practically crying on the stage while thanking everyone who made the project possible. I was a little jealous. I kind of wanted that release. Maybe the show didn't do a good enough job of grabbing my focus, but I feel like they didn't even really have a chance, thanks to a couple of inconsiderate patrons.
I know, as an actor, that I want to reach out to my audience, to communicate with them on an intimate level, even if there are thousands of people, to create a shared moment with each of them. If they're all on their phones, I can't do that, whether the performance is live or recorded. You can't reach someone whose attention you don't have. I promise you, cellphone user, you will get all those texts when you turn your phone back on. You can call people back. Tell them you were in a movie/play, they will understand. You can wait until afterwards to IMDB that one actor because you know you know him from something but you can't put your finger on it. You can wait until afterwards to take your turn in Words With Friends. We, as a society, put way too much emphasis on instant response. Just because somebody doesn't answer back in five minutes, doesn't mean they don't love you. It just means they're in the middle of something right now and can't respond. And no, it's not enough to have it on silent or vibrate, because I know that even though it's not ringing, you're going to feel it, or it's going to light up on its own, and you are going to pick it up and look at it. If you're meeting up with someone after, tell them you're in the theater now before the show starts and you'll text or call when you get out.
Just like with texting and driving, IT CAN WAIT.
Unless of course, you're a doctor on call. Then you are excused.