I was tempted many years ago to bring a video camera along to record one of my children performing at Symphony Hall in Phoenix. But we’d been told that taking video or still pictures wasn’t allowed, and I lived in fear that we’d be banished for even attempting such a thing — though video cameras in those days were barely noticeable compared to today’s big screen cell phones and such.
Photographing performers presents all sorts of problems. Flash photography is dangerous for those on stage, and distracting to fellow audience members. And many venues have contracts with artists and designers which specify that their works — whether costumes, choreography or set design — will not be recorded in any way.
Those of you who insist on doing such things put performing arts companies at risk of legal action from venues who ban the taking of photos and videos. You also put performers at risk of injury, and risk the very real ire of fellow theater-goers.
I once attended a community theater production that ended with a rousing, incredibly moving number. I was swept up in emotion until a gentleman sitting just two rows ahead of me decided to whip out his camera and shoot the song in its entirety. Once the show ended, I decided to diplomatically share my disgust.
Turns out I knew the man, a proud father eager to capture his daughter’s performance so he could share it with her later. “I’m not going to post it on the Internet or anything,” he assured me. “I just want my daughter to see it.” Sounds harmless enough until you consider that she was sharing the stage with dozens of young performers.
What if every parent in the crowd had decided to tape their child’s performance? The theater would’ve been a sea of bright lights, and everyone else would have missed the crowning moment in a glorious show. If you can’t keep from using your toys during live performances, leave them at home. Please.
I’m wondering how this father will explain the existence of this footage to his daughter when he shares it. Will he note that rules are meant for other people, but don’t apply to their family? Will he say it’s okay to do whatever you want if it’s something you feel strongly about? Will he imply it’s perfectly fine to disrupt other parents’ experiences since she’s more special than fellow cast members? Will he claim that rules can be bent when your motives are pure? What, exactly, does he think his actions are teaching his own child?
Theater is a team sport. Young members of the cast and technical crew have to follow rules and take direction. It’s part of assuring the entire production shines. Parents who make exceptions for their own behavior set poor examples for the youth who walk in their footsteps. They should know better.
I often hear youth theater companies lament not being taken seriously. Camera happy parents, relatives who buy up every ticket and friends who howl during scenes with people they know aren’t helping the cause. The same goes for conversations rife with unbridled self-adoration — which leave new ticket buyers feeling they’ve just walked into a closed club meeting.
Being proud of your children is good. Giving a riveting performance is good. Sharing congratulations for work well done is good. But beware of words and actions that leave others feeling like outsiders. If theater companies are to survive and thrive, they need new audience members. Having good manners will help you get and keep them.
Coming up: Catching artists in the act