Rihanna needs a lesson in theatre etiquette after caught texting

Category:  Opinions
Friday, September 27th, 2019 at 11:02 AM
Rihanna needs a lesson in theatre etiquette after caught texting by Nathan Brennan
How should you act at a Broadway play? A recent etiquette breach by pop-star Rihanna is making us ask that question again.

While seeing a show or perhaps watching a movie, everyone has had to deal with their fair share of distractions. Crinkling wrappers, loud comments and cell phone usage plague the nation as theatergoers attempt to enjoy their show.

However, for those in attendance at a performance of “Slave Play” on Broadway, their source of dismay was quite the surprise. Rihanna.

According to several audience members, the famous singer and actress apparently arrived late and texted throughout the Sept. 15 showing, sparking backlash for the celebrity’s lack of etiquette.

Following a social media post showing Rihanna backstage taking pictures with the cast, audience members jumped into the comment section to voice their anger. One tweeted: “She texted throughout the performance. Multiple ‘common’ audience members who paid for their tickets have confirmed this. Stop applauding her behavior.”

Meanwhile, amid the controversy, the playwright of “Slave Play,” Jeremy O. Harris, defended Rihanna for her actions. Citing the influence she had on his writing, Harris said, “The patron saint of the play I wrote is literally a pop star, fashion icon, and Demi-goddess named Rihanna…her words are all over it.”

In several tweets, Harris directly defended her: “Two things I learned today about the type of theatre maker I am: when my idol texts that she’s running late. I hold the curtain for her. When my idol texts me during a play I’ve written, I respond.”

This tweet led Harris to a particularly passive-aggressive correspondence with a man named Steven, who found issue with the playwright’s stance on the issue. “I don’t understand why you aren’t condemning that behavior…Lin was right to condemn Madonna. Her doing that throughout the show is incredibly disrespectful to the rest of the audience. And also to the cast,” he tweeted.

In response, Harris stated, “I respect Lin’s position, I just don’t share it.”

The situation they both were referring to occurred in 2015, when Lin-Manuel Miranda, known for his smash hit “Hamilton,” publicly condemned pop icon Madonna for her behavior during a performance of that musical.

Apparently texting during the middle of the show, Madonna was not allowed backstage after the performance and was called out in a now-deleted tweet from Miranda: “Tonight was the first time I asked stage management NOT to allow a celebrity (who was texting all through Act 2) backstage. #noselfieforyou.”

Miranda, as well as the audience members of “Slave Play,” are not alone in their disgust.

In a situation from 2013, an audience member took it upon themselves to rectify one woman’s texting by throwing her phone away from her. During a performance of “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812,” National Review columnist Kevin Williamson started out by “kindly” asking her to cease her cell phone usage. She refused, telling him to mind his own business.

In response to her statement, Williamson said: “So I minded my own business by utilizing my famously feline agility to deftly snatch the phone out of her hand and toss it across the room, where it would do no more damage. She slapped me and stormed away to seek managerial succor. Eventually, I was visited by a black-suited agent of order, who asked whether he might have a word.”

He continued, “In a civilized world, I would have received a commendation of some sort. To the theater-going public of New York — nay, the the world — I say: ‘You’re welcome.’”

In another, more explosive example, it seems evident that not only audience members are growing tired of cell phone usage.
In a 2009 performance of the musical “Gypsy,” Broadway legend Patti LuPone was in the middle of a song, “Rose’s Turn,” when she abruptly cut off the orchestra in response to someone in the audience taking pictures. She yelled, “Stop! Stop taking pictures right now! You heard the announcement; who do you think you are?”

Earning bouts of raucous applause from the audience, LuPone urged security to remove the photographer from the theater. She continued, turning the moment into a teachable one: “I have to say this: we have forgotten our public manners. And we have forgotten that we are in a community, and this is the theatre. And all of you, every single one of you except for that person, has respect, and I and the rest of this company appreciate it.”

Still, one wonders where to draw the line. The last example was an extreme one, but it goes to show the lengths some will go to in order to assure that the crowd is behaving the way they should at a Broadway play.

Still, in a particular tweet, Harris pointed out: “I’m not interested in policing anyone’s relationship to watching a play, ESPECIALLY someone who isn’t a part of the regular theatre going crowd. Moreover, as ppl on this site know, I’m famously ambivalent abt phone use in theatre.”
Seeming to go back and forth, Harris would bring up the fact that perhaps theatre needs to be more adaptable to the technology of the age, which seems to always be in a state of flux; if the tech is changing, why isn’t Broadway?

Harris addresses this very thought in another tweet regarding the Rihanna situation, saying: “IDK. There’s no right or wrong way to watch the theatre...the form is dying so I’d rather ppl just be there then not tbqh.”

Both sides of the argument make sense. Perhaps Rihanna is not accustomed to going to a show, so her malfeasance on that end could possibly be excused. However, with the power and influence she has, how could she not know that texting on a bright screen in a dark theater, even if it is a message to the playwright, would be quite distracting for others around her?

The theatre is a special place and acting a noble art. Actors put their hardest work forward for eight shows a week and for two to three hours, and that can be an exhausting experience. Dealing with distractions, on the part of the actors and the audience members, can take away a bit of the magic.

Therefore, just put the camera away and save the texting for before the show or during intermission. Regardless of your cell phone, the show must go on.

Tags: theatre, rihanna

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