The Show Must Go On — Or Should It?

July 16th, 2009 by Kathy McManus

A controversial high school version of Rent raises questions of age-appropriateness in the arts.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

 Does a well-known actor have the right to stop a live performance and chastise an audience member?

Two-time Tony Award winner Patti LuPone halted her show in Las Vegas recently, waving her hands to silence the orchestra before “chewing out some doofus in the third row” who was using an unspecified electronic device.

What were you doing?” demanded Ms. LuPone as the entire audience looked on. “I promise not to be mad at you. Just tell me. What were you doing--videoing? Taking photos? Texting? I really want to know.” The fan, who failed to answer, was threatened with exile by Ms. LuPone, who then resumed singing “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.”

From Broadway to Burbank, actors are increasingly losing their patience with rude rogue audiences who click, flash, and chomp their way through shows, distracting performers and annoying everyone around them. The actor David Hyde Pierce recounts seeing a family passing a bucket of chicken down the front row.

In Ms. LuPone’s case, what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas. News reports focused on her show-stopping soliloquy and pointed out that it was a repeat performance of a similar episode in January, when she broke character in “Gypsy” and, according to The New York Times, began “berating an audience member who tried to take pictures of her.”

“What do you expect me, or any performer for that matter, to do?” Ms. LuPone shot back at The Times. “Do we allow our rights to be violated (photography, filming and audio taping of performances is illegal) or tolerate rudeness by members of the audience who feel they have the right to sit in a dark theater, texting or checking their email while the light from their screens distract both performers and the audience alike? Or should I stand up for my rights as a performer as well as the audiences I perform for?”

Tell us what you think: Have too many people checked their manners—instead of their cell phones--at the door? Should performers be responsible for policing unacceptable audience behavior? Did Patti LuPone do the right thing?