September 28, 2023

I am super opinionated and passionate about this topic because I love and support the performing arts, but I also work and live in the digital world.

In fact, I’ve written about it before.

Whether it’s a play, a musical, a concert, it’s a fact: sooner or later the seal will be completely off, and smartphones will become integrated with the experience. And it will be glorious because it will cause unreasonable theater snobs to seize in agony.

That’s an exaggeration, and I don’t actually want anybody to experience pain.

I also get it.

I don’t want to be bothered by somebody’s flash. I don’t want somebody to be holding their phone up in front of me for the full two-hour duration of a performance. Then again, the worst behavioral offense I’ve ever encountered at a show had nothing to do with technology. It was two women sitting behind Kristi and me who would not stop talking during what was a fantastic Kenny Loggins show.

People asked them to stop, and they responded, “We paid for the tickets. We can do as we please.”

Nobody is suggesting that the performing arts become a digital free-for-all. However, it is completely reasonable to accept that not everybody enjoys the arts in the same way. One person’s “the theater is meant to be experienced by the whole of the person” is another’s “I want to document this amazing experience forever.”

One response is not superior to the other, and to suggest so is supreme snobbery.

It will soon be antiquated.

The New York Times writes about it in its Oct. 6 edition, “Filming the Show: Pardon the Intrusion? Or Punish It?” And I’m not interested in arguing with anybody on this topic because I don’t intend to upset anybody’s theater experience with my phone. But, also, I’m ultimately on the right side of performing arts history on this one.

Alas, I am going to root on and support anybody who challenges these norms.

And I’m going to declare “I told you so” when theater companies start creating “digital-friendly” shows. Eventually, “digital-friendly” shows will be the norm, and the outlier performances and concerts will be “digital-free.”

The Times’ article says it’s already happening.

But others are trying to embrace the digitally tethered: Some orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, have experimented with letting people keep their phones on during some concerts and offer an app to guide people through the music. The Boston Symphony Orchestra does this, too, at select “Casual Fridays” concerts, in certain designated seats.

And then there are the compromises: When Bruce Springsteen was on Broadway in 2017 and last year, the production put an insert in the Playbill, urging fans accustomed to rock concerts not to use their phones during the show, but promising that Mr. Springsteen would stay onstage during the curtain call long enough for people to take pictures. The Metropolitan Opera offers similar advice on its website: “Tip: Snap a pic of the cast during curtain call!”

To me, this is a wonderful compromise. Let folks go to town before the show and toward the end of it. But did you read what the Philadelphia Orchestra is doing with the app to guide people through the music?

That’s marketing 101, people.

There will probably always be enough theater nerds to fill Broadway shoes in New York. But I’ll tell you: when RENT came to Oklahoma City, the place was less than half full. And tickets were cheap.


Promoting the arts isn’t merely about endlessly advocating for more public school dollars. It’s about introducing the masses to talent and beauty, skill and precision, through the devices we carry in our pockets.

And that happens when you allow the true believers or at least the admirers to share their experiences digitally. The smart thing to do would be to create digital content around the art and to designate certain portions of the performance as being phone-friendly.

It will happen whether you like it or not. Might as well regulate it.


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