Broadway’s ‘Hand to God’ Cell Phone Offender: ‘I Downed a Few Drinks’

Broadway cell phone Hand to God
Courtesy of O+M Co.

Cell phones in Broadway theaters: What are people thinking?

Now we know, sort of, thanks to a publicity-stunt press conference during which one cell phone offender — the guy who tried to charge his phone by plugging it in to an onstage outlet at play “Hand to God” — spoke out.

“I downed a few drinks, and I think that clearly impaired my judgment,” said Nick Silvestri, a 19-year-old from Long Island. “I guess I wasn’t really thinking.”

Producers of “Hand to God” held the press conference July 10 to capitalize on the flurry of attention recently given to what has been a source of long-simmering tension among theatergoers. For years, stage folks have decried the regular mid-show disruptions wrought by the advent of the mobile phone.

The issue has reached something of a tipping point recently, with Patti LuPone making headlines earlier this week for snatching away the phone of a texting audience member at the Off Broadway show in which she stars, “Shows for Days” — and doing it without ever breaking character. (The phone was returned to its owner after the show.)

Just a few days before that, Silvestri earned the ire of the theater community when, minutes before a performance of “Hand to God,” he leapt onto the stage and plugged his phone into what turned out to be a fake electrical outlet. Cast members chronicled it on Twitter.

Earlier this spring, Madonna attracted disapproval for reportedly texting during hot-ticket musical “Hamilton.”

The dust-ups highlight the complaints that arise with increasing frequency as texting, ringtones and phone calls intrude on what’s long been the traditional theater etiquette of a dark, quiet auditorium. It’s a regular occurrence at Broadway shows these days, thanks to the omnipresence of mobile devices, not to mention the increasing presence of tourists and young audiences — some of whom have never been to a Broadway show.

“I don’t go to plays very much, and I didn’t realize that the stage is considered off limits,” Silvestri said.

There’s something of a generational divide, too, between the traditionally older-skewing theatergoing demographic and the younger audiences who have grown up in the digital, mobile era — for whom mobile device usage is akin to a basic civil right.

The press conference with Silvestri, held in front of the Booth Theater, took advantage of the cell-phone incident (which was not a stunt, Silvestri assured people) to lend a little publicity to “Hand to God,” the Broadway comedy that earned strong reviews (and five Tony nominations) but has largely struggled to gain momentum at the box office. The event also gave Silvestri the chance to apologize.

“I’ve learned a lot about the theater in the past few days — theater people are really passionate and have been very willing to educate me,” he said. “I would like to sincerely apologize to the Broadway community.”

That might not be enough for LuPone, who’s famously tough on folks who use cell phones during her shows. During the 2008 run of “Gypsy,” she stopped the show when someone was taking pictures.

“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,” LuPone said after the July 8 incident at “Shows for Days.” “I am so defeated by this issue that I seriously question whether I want to work on stage anymore. Now I’m putting battle gear on over my costume to marshal the audience as well as perform.”

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  1. Edwin Neill says:

    Why hasn’t someone pointed out Broadway theaters are as much to blame for the increasing casualness of attending live theater. Concession stands which encourage drinks being brought into the auditorium; crinkle crunching water bottles creating noisey chaos; and the cattle barn experience of narrow aisles, restrooms crowded and located so far away a fifteen minute intermission is ten minutes too short to actually “rest”, and with overly aggressive ushers shouting at patrons all combine to create a real tractor pull atmosphere. Tell the theaters to clean up there act and maybe audiences will respond.

  2. As an audience member, I’ve regularly had to contend with people in theaters sitting around me talking DURING the show, and THEY get pissy when told to be quiet. WTF? It seems that people no longer understand that they are NOT in their living rooms where they can talk with impunity. I was at a concert of Dmitri Hvorostovsky at Avery Fisher Hall, where he had the house staff go through the house during the intermission requesting that people turn off their cell phones/pagers. This was done in both English AND Russian (most of the attendees seemed to be Russian, unsurprisingly). And yet, during an a capella song, some woman’s cell phone went off, and SHE TOOK THE CALL!! And then got angry with everyone on that level that WE had the temerity to be angry with HER. Oh, and the guy on the Parquet at Carnegie Hall for a big jazz gala who spent the entire time with his iPad. At last night’s Danny Elfman concert my roommate shut down the guy next to her who pulled his phone out DURING the concert.

    No one has any consideration or manners these days. No respect for the other audience members, nor for the artists on stage. I was taught from a VERY early age how to behave appropriately at a live performance. What happened??

  3. Proof that alcohol can lead to stupidity.

  4. CMarks says:

    “Downed a few drinks”, not all that unusual, although illegal, for a 19 year but sort of strange since he was out with his parents.

  5. Damien says:

    Paying that much money to see a show and people play with their phones instead… I don’t know why people don’t just up and leave if it’s that boring.

  6. wa says:

    It would make me so angry if I paid around $200 for a ticket to a Broadway show to have the atmosphere ruined by a cell phone. What are these people thinking?? So rude.

  7. ThomT says:

    I’ve talked with 3 house managers and all said the misuse of cellphones is the biggest single problem they face during a performance. One manager said an audience member during one show was using a full sized tablet and, after a third warning, had to be removed from the theatre. Why are these people spending big bucks for tickets if they don’t really want to pay attention to the show?

    • If the theaters put charging cell phone lockers in the lobbies and required the use of the lockers, then we’d be able to solve two problems at once: the annoying cell-phone misuser and the undercharged cell phone.

  8. cadavra says:

    And while we’re at it, could we get kids and tourists to stop shouting, “We love you, ——!” during the show?

  9. Pamela says:

    Patti Lupone DID break character. She ranted for quite a while, stopping the show, & only grabbed the cellphone as she left the stage at the end of the scene. There’s audio of it on YouTube.

    • Michael Anthony says:

      Perhaps. Her character is EXACTLY like what Lupone said to the cell phone user. She was due to exit stage anyways.

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