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Silicon Valley has a solution to one of the most annoying problems on Broadway.
After decades of cell phones causing distractions and disruptions on the Great White Way, an ambitious new business named Yondr might have finally found a way to get people to put them away. It forces theatergoers to put their phones into locked pouches when entering the theater, and it will be used for the first time on Broadway next month when comedian Dave Chappelle performs at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
The company’s founder, Graham Dugoni, first came up with the idea in an effort to protect individual privacy in the modern digital era. When attending a musical festival in 2012, he saw two strangers film a drunken man dancing, and then upload the embarrassing video to YouTube. “That was the keystone moment for me,” Dugoni recalled, asking “what degree of privacy can we expect in a public sphere?”
But, while Dugoni’s invention might prevent some people from spreading private humiliating moments at concerts, it might also reduce one of the most common annoyances at Broadway shows.
“Routinely, I see people getting texts and phones that ring and aren’t answered, and people who text and the screen light up during the play, and it’s quite distracting,” complained one frequent theatergoer. People using their phones during performances often disturb the audience members sitting around them, as well as the performers on stage.
“When a phone goes off or when a LED screen can be seen in the dark, it ruins the experience for everyone else — the majority of the audience at that performance and the actors on stage,” commented Tony Award-winning actress Patti LuPone after snatching a phone from an audience member sending text messages during a show in 2015. “We work hard on stage to create a world that is being totally destroyed by a few, rude, self-absorbed and inconsiderate audience members who are controlled by their phones,” she said.
In addition to disturbing other audience members and performers, it is disrespectful.
Last season, when actor Jarrod Spector spied popular recording artist Kanye West using his phone during the opening night performance of The Cher Show, he was frustrated. “If you look up from your cell phone, you’ll see we’re doing a show up here,” Spector wrote to West on social media. “It’s opening night,” he stated, adding that it was “[k]ind of a big deal for us.”
If people are using their phones to record a performance, then their unauthorized recordings can also violate federal copyright law.
“The issue is that filming a live show is theft,” commented actress Samantha Massell, who spotted someone capturing her performance in the 2015 production of Fiddler on the Roof. “My creation was stolen, as was the creation of everyone on our stage tonight,” she complained.
Yet, there have not been any effective solutions to the growing problem.
Before the curtain rises for each show on Broadway, there is an announcement to turn off or silence all cell phones. But, “[t]hat particular scold – ‘Don’t use your cellphone’ – is like telling children to be quiet with a substitute teacher,” observed Penn Jillette of the popular magic act Penn & Teller. “It’s not going to work,” he said, explaining that “[y]ou cannot really do it with fake authority.”
The most effective approach to simply block, jam, or interfere with cell phone reception in Broadway theaters is not a legal option. “We can all think about emergencies in theaters or schools where being able to reach 911 is critical,” commented an advocate for wireless carriers. “The worry is that jammers are a very blunt instrument,” he said.
The British band Mumford & Sons has required audience members at its concerts to check their phones at the door. But, the process resulted in long check-in and retrieval lines, and exposed fans to the risk of theft and property damage.
In 2003, the New York City Council took a more radical approach, and voted to override Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto of its bill banning the use of cell phones in Broadway theaters. Violators can both be fined up to $50, and removed from the venue.
Mayor Bloomberg believed that the bill would be too difficult to enforce. “We do not hesitate to shush,” he wrote in a letter to the city clerk. “Some standards of conduct, not directly affecting public health or safety, can best be enforced not through legislation, but through less formal means,” he argued.
However, Councilman Philip Reed responded that the ban on cell phones is “like the penal code, the health code – there’s no smoking in a restaurant, [and] people don’t do it.” “But, right now, turning off a cell phone is a request; it’s not the law,” he said, and, “it’s empowering to be able to say, ‘You’re violating the law, it’s against the law to talk on the phone, turn it off.’”
While the law prohibiting the use of cell phones in Broadway theaters is still effective, it is never enforced. Policemen do not patrol the aisles writing tickets to troublesome theatergoers.
Placing phones in locked pouches during Broadway shows could work. But, it is possible that some theatergoers might still not silence their phones before sliding them into the pouches, or hide their phones in order to avoid using the pouches. While the pouches can always be unlocked using a special machine in the lobby of the theater, some addicted individuals might not want to be blocked from accessing their devices.
Yet, Yondr has gained significant traction, and it is now used in schools, courthouses, and various entertainment venues. Chappelle first started using it for his comedy shows after an unauthorized recording of comedian Hannibal Burress’ performance was posted on the Internet. Using Yondr, Chappelle commented that, “I know my show is protected, and it empowers me to be more honest and open with the audience.”
The Tony Award-winning director of Hamilton, Thomas Kail, found other benefits using Yondr for the improvisational hip-hop show Freestyle Love Supreme presented off-Broadway several months ago. “I found that audiences, knowing they had to be present, and couldn’t be on their phones, were more attentive than I could’ve imagined,” he observed. “It created a communal experience that focused on listening, and this made the connection between the audience and the performers electric,” Kail said.
June 13, 2019 at 03:03AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs