Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Who Do You Think You Are?!?!"

Hugh Jackman has received a great deal of press over the last 24 hours for stopping a preview performance of his new Broadway play, A Steady Rain, while an audience member's cell phone rang for almost a full minute. I think reports of Mr. Jackman's reaction have been greatly exaggerated. (One report I heard said that Jackman "ripped into" the audience member in question.) Actually, I think he was fairly patient. You can watch the clip yourself.

This made me recall a similar episode during the penultimate performance of Patti Lupone's Gypsy, during which some hapless audience member dared to take a picture. Patti's response was deliciously Classic Lupone. Watch and listen.

As an actor, I admit, I feel a certain degree of satisfaction when I watch these clips having had to perform through picture-taking and cell phone ringing and some even more distracting behavior. However, I never stopped the show. I can't. I'm not a star. Really, the only actors who can get away with these sorts or responses are the ones whose names appear above the title.

In the case of Jackman and Lupone, both have worked hard to get where they are and, in my opinion, are deserving of their success. And whether it's fair or not, their celebrity and fame gives them a certain amount of leadership within a company of actors. But, for example, if the picture-taking had happened during "Little Lamb", the girl playing Louise would have been expected to just soldier on through the song. Every actor knows the oldest rule in show business is the show must go on.

As actors, part of our job is to have the technique and concentration to continue in the moment despite whatever distractions may happen in the audience. You owe it to everyone in the audience who is not behaving badly and the rest of the actors on stage who are working collaboratively to create the reality of the play. One actor deciding to abandon that collaboration is arguably more distracting than any cell phone ring or camera flash.

Also, in our "community" of the theatre, as Miss Lupone so eloquently puts it, we, onstage, know that there is a staff of ushers and a house manager out there whose job it is to deal with offending audience members. You can't see it in the Hugh Jackman clip, but I promise you, there was an exasperated House Manager or usher standing in the aisle, arms waving wildly, trying to communicate to the cell phone ringer to get the heck out of the theatre. Someone from the stage jumping in to do this job makes the entire episode more humiliating and disruptive than it really needs to be. Now, I admit, this is the ideal philosophy I'd like to adhere to in the best of all possible worlds, but...these reactions, though I don't condone them, are kinda fabulous in an "actor's ultimate revenge fantasy" sort of way.

The great irony here is, that while recording these reactions may not be distracting, it is illegal. Can you imagine what Patti would have done if she'd known?

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At 11:36 AM, Blogger jill said...

A very nuanced reaction. Far more so than my immediate, "Good for him. Stupid f***ers."

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Diane said...

Interesting post. I agree with you about the sort of mixed reaction. On the one hand, these folks are using their "leadership" positions to call stupidity out. So that, hopefully, when Louise is singing Little Lamb, she won't have to deal with this. That said, your point about whether or not this kind of departure from the show is in fact MORE distracting is a valid one. In the case of Hugh Jackman, it was interesting to see that he essentially reacted in character (or maybe I'm reading too much into the clip I saw?) The phone seemed to go on ringing FOREVER, and I think regardless of what he chose to do (or not), it would have been HIGHLY distracting. In the case of Lupone, she sort of reacted in character too (of course, parsing Lupone's character from Rose's is kind of tough to do...) Except, then she went on to talk about public manners, etc. I guarantee you, this was FAR more distracting from the show to the audience than a picture taken by a rogue audience member. That said, something tells me her audience didn't mind one bit.

At 12:25 PM, Blogger PB said...

Good for Hugh and Patti. These idiots need to be scolded and embarrassed in front of a full audience. Frankly, I thought Hugh was quite mellow and easy going despite the circumstances. I really think this speaks to a larger social issue. Which is, since when did we feel so damn important that we must be "connected" at all times to the outside world? God forbid we actually live in the moment. God forbid we don't document everything we see. I understand that wireless technology is here to stay(and I begrudgingly use it), but, i don't necessarily think it is for the better. I spend a lot of time at playgrounds looking at Mom's and Dad's who can't seem to take their head out of the downward look to recognize what their kid's are doing. I swear there is a whole generation of people that are perfectly happy going through life staring down at their distractable devices.


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