WADE GOODWYN, HOST:
Put down your cell phones, please. The Internet erupted this week in protest over the outrageous behavior of New York theater audiences and their mobile devices. At least one Tony Award winner took matters into her own hands as Jeff Lunden reports.
JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: The set for the first scene of the Broadway comedy "Hand To God" is a fairly realistic depiction of a church basement. And since there's no curtain at the theater, it's in full view of audience members when they enter. A week ago, a 19-year-old college student jumped on stage to plug his cell phone into what turned out to be a prop outlet. Actress Sarah Stiles was waiting in the wings to make her entrance just as the lights were dimming
SARAH STILES: I see the guy come on stage, and I'm going to be honest with you, it was a little bit scary because it's such a boundary and, like, he crossed it. And the guy actually went to the socket and plugged his phone in.
LUNDEN: Ushers hustled the man off the stage, led him to his seat and gave him his phone back.
STILES: (Laughter) It was crazy. And then we started to show, but it was a little bit weird. It took a while to get the show back because it was very jarring. It's, like, ridiculous. Who does that?
LUNDEN: Stiles tweeted the incident and a couple of days later, an 11-second video clip of it, made on a smartphone, was posted to YouTube, and the story went viral. New Yorker David Pollack was certainly aware of it as he looked at his smartphone while waiting in line Thursday at the half-price ticket booth in Times Square. He says audience behavior in shows has gotten really annoying.
DAVID POLLACK: Routinely, I see people getting texts and phones that ring and aren't answered and people who text and the screen lights up during the play and it's quite distracting.
LUNDEN: And it isn't just screens lighting up. In 2009, Patti LuPone famously stopped a performance of "Gypsy" when a phone flash went off.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSICAL, "GYPSY")
PATTI LUPONE: (As Rose) (Singing) You either have it - Stop, stop, stop, stop. Stop taking pictures right now.
LUNDEN: This past Wednesday evening when she went on stage in the play "Shows For Days" at Lincoln Center, an audience member caught her eye.
LUPONE: I noticed in the first act - at the very beginning of the first act - a woman texting. And I watched her throughout the first act, and I don't think she ever put her phone down.
LUNDEN: LuPone says she and the rest of the cast became even more upset when the woman continued to text in the second act. So at the end of the scene where she normally reaches over and shakes someone's hand in the first row as she exits, LuPone improvised.
LUPONE: I went to her, touched her on the shoulder, smiled at her, she smiled back, and the other hand just involuntary reached over and grabbed her phone, and I walked off stage. And when I came off, I went, I got the phone. I mean, it was such a sleight of hand.
LUNDEN: Naturally, this story almost immediately went viral on social media. Now keep in mind that it's actually illegal in New York City to use mobile devices in the theater. The City Council passed a law 12 years ago, but it's never been enforced. So "Hand To God" producer Kevin McCollum tried a little gimmick to encourage audiences to self-enforce. He's been running a series of online ads which poke fun at the most recent incidents. One has the picture of an iPhone battery icon in the red with a tagline "Hand To God Broadway, need a charge?" Another has the show's evil puppet, Tyrone, posed like Evita, with the caption "Don't cry for Patti LuPone."
KEVIN MCCOLLUM: The real upside here is we have an opportunity to remind people, on a very serious level, through comedy, behave yourself at the theater and you'll have a better time for everyone.
LUNDEN: For her part, Patti LuPone says she's starting to feel defeated by the constant distractions from theater audiences. She says while most people behave well, a few can ruin it for the rest.
LUPONE: Where's the respect? What are you doing there? Why are people coming to the theater if they don't want the theatrical experience?
LUNDEN: Especially considering they may have paid over $100 a ticket to have that experience. Actress Sarah Stiles has three short phrases for them.
STILES: Turn your phone off. Be there. Be in the moment (laughter).
LUNDEN: For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS")
LUPONE: (Singing) There's no people like show people. They smile when they are low. How I wish the folks at home could only see what's come to...
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