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Theatre Etiquette- Get off your phone, Lady!

History is constantly being written with new social rules of Millenials (or the current Savoir Vivre we should say). Millenials are people who were born in the late 80’s all the way through the 2000’s.

What are the new rules exactly? No phones at dinner unless you are Dad? Don’t use Google Translate to translate Spanish…unless you are on holiday in Spain? Pay attention at meetings and in class, unless you are the boss?

These rules that we have for social etiquette (savoir faire) are outdated and hypocritical.

We get a lot of criticism for being tech-savvy and finding non-conventional ways to make money, but we never get complimented for how spectacular it is to be digitally literate in a globalized world or resourceful in a crappy economy and jobs market. And, contrary to popular belief, we still learn how to live in the moment and enjoy the present.

Lately I have been noticing how each generation responds to social media and tech. Everyone laughs about it, but there really is a divide between the generations that grew up using iPhones and computers compared to the generations that learned cursive in school. If I don’t know something, I Google it. If my grandfather doesn’t know something, he asks a bunch of people until he gets the right answer.

My generation knows that social media does not count as being social. But I can’t tell you how often my mom becomes impassioned over “something someone said on facebook.” I always have to remind her that it is not a real form social media. My fiancé’s father doesn’t like to “like” things on facebook because he “doesn’t want to bother anyone.” It is really funny and interesting to see how each generation handles technology.

This past Wednesday, I went to see Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta GA. The theatre was packed with little girls wearing tiaras and princess dresses, frazzled parents who were just as excited as their kids, and theatre lovers of all ages. Everyone was excited by the magic that happens during theatre, especially a show of such popularity. My friend and I skipped the popcorn and beer line and sat in our seats in the middle of the left side, ground floor.

When the lights went down and the overture began, everyone was asked to silence their cell phones and take a seat. On my right I had my friend, then next to her an older lady with 5 girls around age 10 next to her, all lined up in a row. On my left, luckily I had no one.

The first song began with a “Bonjour, Good day, how is your family?” and the lady to the right of my friend started talking at full voice to the girls she was with. She said “Do you want some popcorn?” “Look at that dress!” and other things that came to mind.

All of my students know that it is a massive pet peeve of mine for someone to talk while someone else is talking, and especially when someone is presenting or we are watching a theatre performance.

I thought I was being sensitive and just gritted my teeth, hoping she would stop and keep quiet and watch the show. After all, the ten year olds she was with were shushing her.

About halfway through the first song, a woman and her 5 year old son stumble through the aisle and noisily took the seat next to me with a large bucket of popcorn and something that makes a crinkle sound–twizzlers, maybe? I don’t know. Again, I thought I was just being sensitive. I mean, I paid a good chunk of change to have a nice, classy night out at the theatre with really talented actors. Is it really so much to ask for everyone around me to be respectful of theatre etiquette so I can enjoy the show? Didn’t they come here for the same reason?

Not even before the first song was over, the woman that came in late and sat down next to me took out her cell phone. It had started ringing–which is the mortal sin of theatre etiquette–and instead of turning it off, she let it ring and checked who it was, then she TEXTED them back. If letting your phone ring is the mortal sin of theatre etiquette, then texting is the biggest middle finger to all the actors and the people around you.

Okay, I thought, she has a kid, I know it’s hard to balance. Maybe she had an emergency.

To my shock and dismay, she did not stop at a text message. No. Lady continued to check her email and scroll through Instagram for the entirety of the first act–45 minutes. So we are in the completely dark theatre and there is a glowing light right next to my face for 45 minutes. After the first 15 minutes, I started to look around to see if there were any ushers that would tell her to stop, but there were none. So I started to look around at the people around me and they were just as annoyed.

The lady noticed I was uncomfortable, so instead of turning off her phone and enjoying the show, she leaned forward, right behind the seat in front of her, and continued using her bright screened Android for promotional email reading (yes, I was that close that I could see).

On my other side, the lady with the kids was still talking at full volume and started to crinkle trash during “Be Our Guest.” My enjoyment of doing things outside the comfort of my own home went down drastically and I really just wanted to cry. Or scream. Or really, go all teacher mode on both women and tell them exactly how to behave at a theatre performance. Their kids were being better behaved than they were, and this is not how you treat other people.

During the last few minutes of the first act, the 5 year old to my left was as annoyed at his mother as I was.  He was obviously bothered that she wouldn’t spend time with him by just watching the show. That clever kid asked her to put him in her lap, resulting in forcing her to put her phone away.

I was so happy… and yet disappointed that her 5 year old son had to discipline his own mother.

Of course, that didn’t stop her from using her phone during the second act, or leaving right before curtain call.

Same with the woman on my right. After her incessant narrative during the performance, she left with all 5 kids right before curtain call, too. For those that don’t know, it is incredibly rude to leave during curtain call and not applaud the people who danced, sweated, and performed for you for the past two hours–especially if you ignored them or talked through their stellar performances.

I don’t understand. Did I miss something? When did parenting mean screwing the rules and etiquette and teaching your kids that you can do whatever you want without consequence? Kids need training on how to be good people and, contrary to popular belief, parents are the ones that need to teach them.

The rules for theatre are simple:

  • Don’t be on your phone.
  • Be quiet and watch.
  • Clap at the end.

Is that so hard? I left the show completely livid.

But then it got me thinking.

The parents were on their phones and talking at inappropriate times–not the kids. Not anyone my age. The very people who claim that we, as Millenials, are “on our phones too much” or we “don’t know how to disconnect” are actually not guilty of this at all. We do have digital literacy–enough to know to not be on our phones during a show. We do know how to disconnect–because we know that our email inbox will be right where we left it.

We aren not glued to our screens–we just know how to manipulate them. We have the skills and etiquette to know how to use and when to use devices. When did the roles reverse?

Read more: 3 Films you can Find me at during the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival

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