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.
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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.”