Let Me Tell You What You Can Do With That Phone

Hat tip to Howard Sherman for calling attention to a New York Times article about cell phone use at live performances that the paper has set up as an study guide/student discussion resource.

The article opens with a video of Joshua Henry taking a phone from an audience member and tossing it under the seating riser (without missing a note in his song), noting that Henry had already been indicating his disapproval with being recorded for three songs.

It also mentions the recent incident in Cincinnati when violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter stopped in the middle of a Beethoven concerto to call out a woman recording her performance.

The New York Times article poses a number of questions for students to consider and discuss.  While I feel the questions are a little leading toward certain answers, they, or questions like them, could prove useful as a starting point for arts & cultural organizations as part of a conversation with younger audiences (or potential audiences) about their expectations.

I will say, of the student responses made in the article comments section, there were more inclined against the use of phones than I had expected. Many of the commenters were from the same school so perhaps they were generated by like-minded friends.

There is also an opportunity to have those participating in a discussion you host do a little more research on whatever scenario is being discussed.

For example, when I first learned about Annie-Sophie Mutter stopping the performance, my impression was that the person in the audience had only just started recording a short snippet. In later interviews, Mutter said the woman recorded the whole first movement and then pulled out another phone and an external power source and started recording the second movement. This adds a little more context for a discussion.

Making audiences of all ages feel welcome at performances and other cultural events will inevitably require addressing the issue of recording. I suspect that other than luck and perceptive ability, the more constructive policies will result from having conversations with audiences rather than by straight fiat or debating about it in the comments section of websites.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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1 thought on “Let Me Tell You What You Can Do With That Phone”

  1. It’s odd that the Cincinnati Symphony musicians didn’t do anything since their CBA would strictly prohibit unauthorized recordings of any kind. Most orchestras make an announcement – either live or pre-recorded – at the top of the concert, reminding patrons not to record.

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