Thursday, February 26, 2009

Would Broadway Allow Photo Taking in the Name of Viral Marketing?

Amanda Ameer's fun blog Life's a Pitch had an interesting post yesterday that is all about what us old-school fogies would call courtesy and decorum at public performances. This means, among other things, dressing a certain way, applauding or laughing as the performance may incite or require, leaving meals in the restaurant where they belong, keeping beeping and buzzing and burring objects on mute and shutting the hell up when people are on stage doing whatever it is they do. Unfortunately, as Amanda points out and as everyone pretty much acknowledges, the ideas of courtesy and decorum are extinct, like passenger pigeons. Read this:

I was sitting in the last row of the orchestra at Alice Tully last night and, at one point during a performance, the woman to my left leaned back and loud-whispered to an usher, "There's someone taking pictures down there!", gesturing to her right dramatically. No sooner had the dutiful usher trotted off to investigate the situation did the woman to my left whip out her iPhone and take a photo herself.

Bold, madam.

[That would be seat Z104, if anyone from Lincoln Center is reading.]

During the final bows, my tricky left-neighbor took another iPhone photo, and this time, the usher told her to stop, so she first took the picture and then turned off the phone. If I were the usher, I might have said, "Ma'am, I'm gonna need to delete that photo..." and then mistakenly deleted her contacts. Simultaneously, the woman to my right busted out her camera equivalent of Zach Morris' cell phone and took a flash photo! The usher asked her to stop, at which point she implored, "But I'm a critic." and waved scribbled notes on her program in his face. (Keep in mind, this was all happening while the Chamber Music Society was playing.) I was going to point out that, as a Publicity Professional, I can safely say we were not in press seats, but I thought it best not to cause a scene while on the new hall's maiden voyage.

Aside from the fact that Amanda references the main character in Saved By the Bell, she goes on to wonder whether turning up her proud nose at the dastardly insouciance of those photo takers is actually ignoring something that could be vital to the renaissance of live performance. Read:
On the train ride home, I found myself wondering why I was being so rigid. What is actually the problem with audience members taking non-flash photos at performances? Flashes distract performers, but iPhone/Blackberry/camera phone photos are very discreet: they're silent and flashless. A second potential problem is that the artists don't have approval of photos that are taken during concerts then posted who knows where, but shouldn't performers be thrilled that someone was enjoying the experience of them playing enough to want to preserve a memory of it? We take photos when we like something, when we want to remember something or when we want to share our personal experiences with others. With that in mind, how can taking photos at concerts be against the rules? And if the photos end up on blogs or Flickr, or videos are posted on YouTube or Vimeo, what damage is done? If anything, a positive concert experience at your venue is being advertised. By prohibiting photos, presenters are essentially preventing audiences from doing the viral marketing leg-work for them.

Now, let's just be clear: the day Actors' Equity allows people sitting in Broadway houses to take photographs of actors in performance, even if they're without flash and silent as a mouse, is the day we can safely assume Armageddon has arrived. So this is really more of a theoretical question than an action item, at least for now. Is the desire among audience members to take photos of their experience (let's just forget for a moment how uncouth and obnoxious it is for a press person to do it) the kind of impulse that could, under certain circumstances, be turned into a powerful example of viral marketing? "Dear Aunt Ruth, this is me at the theatre watching Julia Roberts!" Is it so crazy? What if the rules are made so that the performers are protected and the audience thus empowered? What does live performance gain by denying audiences the ability to share in the moment in some way, to document their experience, to thwart the inherently temporal nature of the experience? I do realize that if everyone takes photos, you don't need souvenir programs, for example. Or do you? Is there a corrolation that one negates the other?

I mean, sure, part of this makes my stomach turn. But it makes you wonder.

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1 comment:

Jen Ryan said...

Perhaps an equitable solution would be for the production to make available stills to the audience members they can buy as souvenirs. They can be taken during performances, photographed by "official" photographers, and printed out and sold as the audience exits the show.

As a performer I wouldnt want to play to a room of cellphone cameras, but people do use them...hard to get past in this day and age.

AEA's rules regarding recording and photographing of shows, especially showcases, is unacceptable and thoroughly antiquated.