Concert etiquette, or put down your phone

Concert etiquette, or put down your phone

Jenna Simeonov

Alright, so I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the 201516 season of opera and concerts so far, but I’m a little dismayed that it’s only November and we already need to talk about concert etiquette.

If I’m going to rant, though, about people who still forget to silence their phones, or whojust have to open that candy during the quiet part, I suppose it’s only fair to talk about how we listen to classical music.

If I’m seeing an opera in a bar, or a concert in an art gallery, I have plenty of patience for those who can’t stop texting or even the sounds of people eating popcorn. It all becomes part of the experience, and I’m generally more agreeable with a glass of wine in my hand. Now, I’m an advocate of unconventional performance venues, because I think that open seating and libations are easy ways of creating an audience-friendly show. When I sit in a proper theatre, large or small, my expectations change significantly.

I respect the traditional theatre, the old-fashioned concert hall. I think going to the theatre or the symphony stretches people to develop good manners, better time management, a longer attention span, and a keen awareness of what’s around them. Contrary to what many people will argue, I don’t think paying for a ticket buys you the opportunity to disturb other ticket-buyers.

Disturb how, you ask? There are the latecomers, who then get divided into two groups: those who make it the problem of others, and those who don’t. Making a reluctant row of listeners to struggle to their feet at let you by, getting the usher and his little flashlight involved, that’s a ripple effect of disgruntledness they’re causing. There are candy-wrapper openers, purse rummagers, awake-snorers, coughers, owners of malfunctioning hearing aids, people who whisper, people who don’t know how to whisper, and people who think shh is a quiet sound. Animals, these concertgoers are.

Recently, I went to see an opera, and the people in front of me spent whole first half raising their phones and iPads in the air to take photos. They’d take like ten shots every time, too. These people were in the second row, so literally most of the people there were seated behind them. They looked surprised when the usher finally came over to ask them to stop. Now, if this happened in a bar or some other more informal venue, it wouldn’t bug me. But it boggles my mind that people don’t consider how distracting their bright phone is in a dark theatre, or that they may be blocking someone’s view, or that it can be disrespectful of the artists. I promise you that everyone is looking at you if you are taking a picture of the stage. You are not being subtle, everyone is waiting for you to finish taking that picture so you can put your phone down.

It makes me think of that time Dylan Moran called out a phone-camera-wielder at one of his shows: “Would you please stop taking pictures on your tiny annoying fucking camera. This is happening to you in real time, you are having the experience. It’s not much point to verify that you were at the event when you’re actually here.”

I think that goes for using your phone during a live show, in general. I’ve gone to shows without my notebook, and instead used my phone, but I hate doing it because I can’t watch the show while I type, and I get dirty looks from people who think I’m texting. So, maybe all the people who are fiddling with their phones in the dark are actually taking notes so they can blog about the show. Benefit of the doubt. Honestly, though, if you’re checking your Facebook, sending a text, checking the time, can’t it wait until later? I mean, look up, for goodness sakes! There are artists doing the thing they’ve trained to do their whole lives, right in front of you! Look at them!

Stop being so cynical, you say. These people are just enjoying themselves, and they want to remember the good times with a photo and a tweet. Perhaps you have a point; maybe I’m bashing my head against a very hard wall by asking a crowd of people to behave the way I want them to. Maybe that’s why live music and theatre are so happily consumed over booze and background noise. The companies of Indie Opera T.O. know this, and they’ve been putting up shows in pubs and backyard gardens, while serving wine and munchies. Productions like these are answers to a related question, about the accessibility of opera and classical music. But perhaps it’s more basic than that, in that relaxing the “etiquette” rules can go farther than cracking down on them. People who feel restrained probably won’t get swept up in art.

I’ll still dig my heels in about traditional concert settings. It’s good to learn to sit and focus on one thing for an hour or two. It’s also good to lose control, to yield to the pace of something outside of you. I suppose it’s about more than manners, and more about valuing art and the artists who create it. No matter what the concert venue, I think we can still demand of ourselves the patience and focus that can offer so much reward.

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