Turn off your phone, watch the show. Why is that so hard?

A Wednesday letter in the Star Tribune seems like an invitation to engage in one of our favorite spectator sports: watching and listening to theater- and concert-goers blow the whistle on their audience mates.

Katherine Kleingartner of Minneapolis kicks things off after she got to finally see “Hamilton,” currently playing in the Minneapolis theater district.

She brings up a good point: What on earth could be more interesting on your phone than what’s happening on stage?

After eight months of anticipation, I finally got to cash in my “Hamilton” ticket at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. The show exceeded expectations. I was thrilled and I came away with a couple of observations.

Apparently, despite the announcement at the beginning of the show to do so, people will not turn their phones off for two hours and 45 minutes. Muting sound is one thing, but please know that the glow from your screens is devastatingly distracting to those of us behind you. Turn the dang things off. It’s live theater, and it is worthy of your full attention.

Secondly, it will be impossible for most women to use the bathroom in the 15 minutes of intermission during this show, so I don’t know … don’t drink anything for two days in advance. The line was nearly around the block for the women’s restroom and the lights flashed to end the intermission before I even found the end of the line.

I love theater in this great city. The bathroom situation at these classic old theaters can’t be helped, but the phone thing is just good manners. And I know you have good manners.

Over the weekend, we tried out the new Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Woodbury, which aims to revolutionize how people watch a movie: they require you to watch the movie.

The rules couldn’t be more clear or stark. If you show up once the movie starts, you don’t get in. If you look at your cellphone during the movie, they’ll throw you out.

We have zero tolerance for talking or using a cell phone of any kind during films. We’ll kick you out, promise. We’ve got backup.

And if you miss the rules, they’ll tell you again before the movie starts.

Also, they don’t allow little kids in.

The effort is literally trying to change the entire American entertainment culture, which is fine because, as Kleingartner points out, it’s desperately in need of changing.

  • Jerry

    I’d be happy if the people who have no interest in listening to the music at a concert, and would rather talk to their friends the whole time, just didn’t go the concert.

    • Jerry

      I don’t understand the people who spend $70 dollars a person to yell their conversations to each other, when they can do it at home for free.

      • joetron2030

        I guess they’re free to spend (or waste) their money as they wish but I agree, too.

    • Jeff

      Yes, one of my biggest pet peeves. I like to get closer to the stage for that reason but then I get a beer bath.

  • MrE85

    I noted how many people were looking at screens before seeing “West Side Story” at the Guthrie last month. My phone? At home. I’m there to watch live theater, not a tiny glowing screen. I don’t take my phone to movie theaters, either.

    • What a great production that was. I was blown away by people’s ability to dance in heels.

      • MrE85

        It was indeed. We went on our anniversary, then stopped at the hot new Vietnamese joint Hai Hai on the way home.

        • lusophone

          Instagram posts or it didn’t happen.

    • Kassie

      Ok, that’s ridiculous. Sure, don’t use them during the show, but before hand, why not? And to not bring them at all? Come on.

      • MrE85

        It’s liberating. And it helps to focus on the theater-going experience.

      • Rob

        If you leave the phone at home, you can’t use it while driving to the show, which is, IMHO, a huge plus.

        • Kassie

          You also can’t use it to display your tickets that you bought online, pay the meter for your parking, text your friends that you are meeting, or call the baby sitter when you are running late.

          • Rob

            The baby sitter part is a bit of a challenge… : )

        • >>you can’t use it while driving to the show, <<

          My iPhone doesn't allow me to use it while driving (yes you can bypass it, but it stays in my pocket anyway).

          • Rob

            Good man!

  • Erik Petersen

    I also tried Alamo DraftHouse in Woodbury last weekend, thought it was quite alright.

  • KariBemidji

    One of the best parts about my trip this summer was the digital detox. We could only use (social media and texting) our phones when we connected to wifi. I talked with a lot of people, stared at the beautiful landscapes from my seat on the coach bus and soaked up the world around me. It was so easy to fall back into my bad habits.

  • Barton

    sort of related.

    I knit and crochet. When I’m standing in a long line, or waiting for an appointment anywhere, I’ll take a project I’m working on out of my purse and start working the yarn while waiting. It is always strange to me when people question what I’m doing yet those same people barely take their eyes off their device, even when they are being called up to the front.

    I’ve started putting my phone/bag in the back seat when I drive. That way if it keeps beeping with messages I cannot reach for it at stop lights b/c it just takes a second (people tell themselves).

    • Jack

      Right there with you on the project bit. Lately I’ve knitting breast prosthetics for charity so it can lead to an interesting conversation.

  • AL287

    Smart phones have to the dumbest invention on the planet.

    They have destroyed what diminishing social propriety was left.

    My phone is turned off at work, while shopping and while driving. It is also turned off on the rare occasion I can afford to go to a movie or a theatre production/concert.

    I can’t say the same for many of the people I come across at the grocery store, restaurants, drug stores, even at the gas station.

    They don’t care who they annoy, delay or inconvenience.

    They are the epitomy of, “I don’t care.”

    • Kassie

      Yes, the dumbest invention. Of all the inventions in the world, the one that allows people to connect to each other, get directions, pay for bus fare when you don’t have cash, connect with emergency responders and yes, play games, is the dumbest. And if it is so dumb, why do you have one at all?

      • AL287

        FWIW, I had a Nokia brick phone for 13 years and replaced it 2 years ago when my son said he couldn’t hear me very well on phone calls.

        I was forced to get a Kyocera Verve ( a slider phone) to replace it because Sprint no longer had a brick phone choice for the new plan I was forced to switch to, designed for smart phone users.

        I disabled the texting function and never enabled the Internet access.

        The new battery lasts just as long as the old phone (24-48 hours on a full charge).

        The only time the phone dings is with an Amber alert or a severe weather alert for a tornado.

        Since you asked, I have a cell phone for safety reasons as I travel alone. It’s the reason I got one in the first place and the only reason I have one now.

    • Jeff

      Al, cell phones don’t annoy people, people annoy people.

    • Shopping? Many times there may be sales/coupons/specials on a phone that one can use while shopping. Also shopping list apps are pretty handy.

      • Kassie

        My grocery list is almost always on my phone. I also use my phone to look up reviews of things I’m thinking of buying.

    • Jerry

      In this world of catcalling and public harassment, the ability to wall others off and say “I don’t care” is a feature, not a bug.

      I’d rather be surrounded by people on their phones than those engaging me in unwanted conversations.

    • lusophone

      I currently don’t have a cell phone plan, just use WiFi. Sometimes I go to the grocery for the sole purpose of connecting to their WiFi to check for a message from a family member. It seems like some people are just flat out bothered by others using their cell phones. This behavior isn’t going to change anytime soon.

  • Rob

    It would be cool if every entertainment venue had a “phones off and put away” policy, effectuated by rigorous enforcement.

    • Jerry

      I’m fine with phones at rock concerts, as long as you are not trying record the entire show. Pictures are fine, but no videos.

      • Rob

        Meh. Still distracting. Put ’em away and watch the performance instead.

        • Jerry

          As long as they don’t overdo it, let people enjoy concerts in their own way.

          • Kassie

            Assuming their own way doesn’t involve talking through the whole show. Then talking about how you have the right to talk through the show after someone asks you to shut up.

          • Rob

            You sound like someone who uses their phone during performances.Using phones in music and theater events plain old sucks; it’s rude and distracting. I hope more artists follow Jack White’s lead and ban them outright during performances.

          • Jerry

            Never use you phone during the theater or classical concerts. At a rock club or concert go ahead, as long as you attempt to be somewhat respectful of others.

            Jack White and other artists banning of cell phones during concerts has very little to do with preserving the “concert experience” and everything to do with controlling the distribution of their image. Why would they limit official photographers to the first 3 songs and let amateurs film the rest?

          • Rob

            Meh. The type of performance is immaterial. And I don’t care what White’s motive is; the ban’s the thing.

          • Jerry

            There is no difference between a rock concert and a symphony?

  • Jack Ungerleider

    One counter to this is something they did at Mixed Blood theater a couple of years back when my wife and I went. The performance we were at had specific “social networking” seats (at least I think it was the one we were at or they had a note about it in the program). The idea was that the back row of the theater was reserved for people who were engaging with their network about the performance. Those seats came with some expectations to basically assist the theater with its outreach.

    That’s how I remember it, if anyone reading this is part of Mixed Blood or a regular there and remembers that program, or if it continues on please correct any mistakes in my memory.