This is why we can't have nice things
I was having drinks the other day, and there was a cabaret singer, and sure enough someone was taking photos. I don’t know if the singer minded, but it’s a universal now, at any performance or event. I’m not sure I even understand the impulse - surely there are terabytes of data around the world made up of shaky footage of a concert somewhere, which the owner never watched again.
The fact that so many events involve the audience doing a kind of salute waving their phones aloft has produced a rich genre of memes, idealising a past before cellphones.
But it’s changing our experience in theatres, and not in a good way. This recent NYT story describes the problem of cameras in theatres. Specifically, audience members photographing nude scenes in plays, and (of course) putting the pics on the internet.
I’ve been 20 feet away from an actress naked on stage. I could see the tension in her neck and the perspiration on her leg. She was living the scene in front of me. Vivid, memorable theatre.
I would never have dreamed of taking a photo, any more than I would of a lover. Maybe it’s my x-ennial nature. Maybe my own personality. (On an anger scale of 1-10, I’m at 47 if someone takes my photo without permission).
The argument seems to be that technology has changed the audience experience. But this is not (or not only) a technology issue. Cameras are not new, nor is it new for people to try to catch a photo of something they shouldn’t. Heck, a reporter snuck one in to photograph Ruth Snyder’s execution in 1928.
But there were not armies of theatregoers firing off flashbulbs during your average play. The same people who would not have reached for their instamatic during a production of Titus Andronicus 25 years ago, somehow feel ok pulling out their phone today.
Nor is it only a thing in the theatre. I’ve been in archives where a member of the public is shown a document and immediately pulls out his phone and starts snapping, in a way that previously people would have asked permission, if it involved getting out a camera. Somehow, the phone somehow doesn’t count.
Of course it does count, and it will cost us all the intimacy and realness of theatre in person.