Could photos like these be no more in the future?
The playbill photo has become an iconic part of seeing any show. You know the ones I'm talking about, with the playbill held in the air and the stage in the background, just like the ones above. They find their way onto Instagram pages, Snapchat stories, and more. But there is currently one show running where the only playbill photos will be taken outside the theater.
Keeping up the tradition from their run downtown, Freestyle Love Supreme, will lock audience member's phones in YONDR pouches, so they are unable to use them once inside the auditorium. And while it may seem like a lot of work for the 766-seat Booth Theatre, it is not unprecedented on Broadway. Earlier this year, when Dave Chapelle played a two week engagement at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre as part of the In Residence on Broadway series, audience members were also required to keep their phones in YONDR pouches to avoid any recording at the performances. While unconventional on Broadway, the use of YONDR pouches is not that unsurprising as both Freestyle Love Supreme and Chappelle's show were based in improv and audience reactions. It is understandable that those involved in productions would want to ensure each performance remains as inventive and original as the last. But what if this became the norm for all shows?
The cell phone debate has been running rampant for a while now, with many arguing that a cell phone ban should put in place at theaters. Most recently, a debate was sparked on social media after Slave Play writer Jeremy O. Harris tweeted about how Rihanna texted him during a performance of his play. Many criticized Harris for condoning text messages during his show, when most theaters frown on any cell phone use, with some shows even creating special reminders to tell audience members to turn their phones off.
If you go to the theater on a regular basis, you've probably heard some cell phones go off at a performance. I myself got to hear someone's phone start giving direction for how to get somewhere during a performance of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. And while phone related distractions aren't as common as the phone critics would have you believe, it does raise a question of if theaters should be implementing things like YONDR pouches to prevent phones from becoming issues. It absolute makes sense for a show like Freestyle Love Supreme, which plays the Booth for a limited run and is a show based in improv. But would it sustain at popular shows such as Dear Evan Hansen, Mean Girls, and Wicked?
The playbill photo that has become a staple on social media has also become a part of many shows marketing strategies as they are shared across many platforms. Even extending beyond a photo of a playbill or program, some shows encourage filming of curtain call and additional numbers at the end of shows. a prominent example of this is Six, which encourages filming of the MegaSix at its production in London. While intentional or not, all of these photos and videos serve as promotion for the shows. In fact, videos of the MegaSix was I how I learned about Six.
Cell phones can be an issue. But whether or not the future of theater means locking them in pouches is a very open question. I for one, hope that the simple reminders to turn it off are listened to. Because if you can't tear yourself away from your phone for a few hours, maybe it's not worth going out.