Can I call you back? I’m watching a play


Source: ComedyJesus on YouTube

“Jeezus!” You might hear that muttered when a phone rings during a show. Or worse. 

Most actors and crew have been there. You’re in the middle of a scene, and suddenly there’s a new sound cue. Your prop phone isn’t ringing. And it’s not coming from the booth.

Right. Someone in the audience is wanted on the phone. This can lead to grunting among other patrons and heavy sighs backstage.

Then what happens?

The actors don’t miss a beat. The show continues. But the energy shifts. For the next few seconds, sometimes longer, the audience disengages with the performance. And the bubble is broken.

Theatre is one of few places left where we can leave behind our dizzy, digital world and focus on a story in real time. Just for a little while. But that’s difficult for some people. And some just forget.

Despite our polite, pre-recorded announcements and program notes, the bells still toll from beyond the proscenium.

Patti Lupone has been known to lash out at audience members when their devices light up. This diva will even snatch it out your hand and keep going. But you need a certain amount of legend status to pull off that scene. See Good Morning America for the full story.

So how do we enforce the no-phones policy?

How about strong-arm tactics? In New York, it’s against the law to use your cell in public places like museums, galleries and theatres. It’s been that way since 2003, but it’s rarely enforced.

Arresting audience members is not advisable. As distractions go, that’s way more dramatic than a ringtone. And it’s not good for public relations. Just breathe, and go on with the show.

Tips for making your pre-show announcement more memorable:


  1. Shake it up. Find an amusing (or theatrical) way to get their attention. Movie producers use engaging clips to drive home the same message.
  2. Inform and educate. Let your audience know why it’s important, not just for the company, but for their experience too. The Lionheart Theatre keeps patrons informed with theatre etiquette tips online.
  3. Get personal. Some theatres use their actors’ voices in short audio scenes that reflect themes in the show. Others send actors on stage before the curtain to make the plea.
  4. Don’t assume they know or remember. For some, it might be their first time inside a theatre. They don’t know the rules, so tell them. And consider a quick reminder between Acts.

As show folks, we love our audiences. But we do have a hangup about phones ringing during our performances. We know. We hear it all the time. Except for whistling or wishing an actor good luck, it’s the one thing that makes us collectively clench.

And it’s not just phones. It’s anything that rings, buzzes, pages, tweets, vibrates, snap-chats, or sings a snappy tune, right at the wrong time.

Wait. It gets worse! 

Broadway buzzed on social media when an audience member was caught climbing onto the stage to charge his mobile phone. On a set. In a fake outlet. Right before show time. Uh huh.

You may now turn your phones back on.



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2 thoughts on “Can I call you back? I’m watching a play

  1. I do like it when one of the actors makes the plea. People are more likely to pay attention and actually turn OFF their phones!


    1. Yes, Donna, this is becoming a very popular way to grab attention. In a show I saw recently, the ushers performed a small scene on the stage before curtain. The audience ate it up, and I didn’t hear a ‘beep’ out of them 😉


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