I was sitting in the Historic Asolo Theater recently watching one of the final performances of “4000 Miles” when a woman in front of me pulled out her cell phone.
Maybe it was a mini-tablet, because it was about twice the size of my phone, and brighter, especially in the darkened auditorium.
She typed something, scrolled through e-mails or messages, and then turned it off, turning her attention back to the play on stage.
As you can tell, my attention was drawn away from the play by this irritant. Maybe there was an emergency that needed dealing with, but she didn’t seem to react to whatever she saw on the small screen.
Some time passed before she turned back to the phone, and turned it on again. Of course, this was during a scene change when the stage was dark, so the glow of the light seemed even brighter.
I thought of leaving things alone and waiting to see if it would happen a third time, but I was trying to stay focused on the show, and that was impossible at this point.
So I leaned forward and asked her, quietly, to turn it off because it was distracting to me and others around us who were obviously as bothered as I was but weren’t quite ready to deal with her directly.
Of course, this woman was upset that someone would suggest shutting it off. She turned to me and snarkily said, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”
I was stunned for a moment. Why am I being made into the villain here? I don’t want to further disrupt the show I’m watching, so her response is exactly the reason why I rarely confront offenders in such situations.
I have to assume it is out of embarrassment or awkwardness. You also don’t know what they’re dealing with, but they still need to be made aware that they are disturbing others.
This woman’s snappy response however, stirred different thoughts in me. I thought back to January and that Tampa movie theater, where a man was shot to death after texting before a film started.
If I had even thought of that incident, I might have kept my mouth shut, no matter how bothered I was by the situation. It’s better to be irritated than shot.
How many of us even think of the possibility of a theater patron carrying a gun? I never had before.
I’m not sure how I’ll react in the future. But even with such possible dangers, we should be able to watch a show without disturbances.
We have all suffered near people who can’t stop whispering to one another, or those who think they’re whispering. And no matter how many warnings we hear in advance, at least one person forgets to turn a cell phone off.
That happened earlier this same night. Why does it always seem that the people whose phones go off in the middle of the shows are the ones who can never find them in their pockets or bags to turn them off?
There are live and recorded warning messages before the show and during intermissions at many theaters, but they do little good. At home, we think nothing of looking at our phone for messages while watching television. But at home, you’re not surrounded by people who have paid for the privilege of what’s supposed to be a shared experience.
There are some things, I don’t want to share, like your ringing phone or text messages.
TALKBACK TUESDAY: On Tuesday May 13, I will be leading my final talkback for the season at Asolo Repertory Theatre following the performance of “Hero: The Musical.” We will talk about the challenges of creating new musicals. The talkback discussion is free. For ticket information; 351-8000; asolorep.org
Jay Handelman is the theater critic for the Herald-Tribune and president of the Foundation of the American Theatre Critics Association. Contact him at email@example.com. Be sure to “like” Arts Sarasota on Facebook, Follow me on twitter at twitter.com/jayhandelman.