Mobile Phones in Theatres:
Turning Problems into Possibilities

Today’s guest blog post is written by Cameron Draper, Client Cultivation Specialist, Patron Technology.

When I’m not working here at Patron Technology, I moonlight as an usher at an off-Broadway theater and it is AMAZING how frequently I have to remind people that there is no photography in the theater. These are the house rules. Of course, since virtually everyone has a camera on their mobile devices, taking a picture is easy. So what is the solution to the epidemic of photo snapping in the theater? Should we continue to discourage it or make lemonade out of lemons and use the rise of mobile to our advantage?

First of all, what’s the big deal about taking pictures? Well, often,  it is a copyright issue and/or a union rule that and stands to protect the intellectual property of the designers and also ensuring the safety of the actors. Taking these pictures is against the law and that is why photographs are prohibited in theaters. A 2011 article on goes into more detail.

How can we possibly prevent every patron from taking pictures after they’ve been reminded? I read an article in the New York Times last year about cellphone use in theater and the author mentioned a theater company in California that hands out “a form-fitting, tamper-proof neoprene case” to every theater patron as they enter to actually prevent them from being able to use their phones during a performance. They clearly went the route of trying, almost at all costs, to prevent patrons from recording the show. So it seems that anything short of physically forcing patrons not to use their phones just doesn’t cut it.

Maybe we should accept the inevitability that patrons are going to take pictures and think of ways to use this to our advantage. Now, I am not suggesting we go against copyright laws, but rather create some way that patrons can legally share their experience on social media. That way, they have something to take away and you have some additional social media marketing – everybody wins!

The recent Broadway production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella did this brilliantly by setting up a small “step-and-repeat” outside of the house with props that patrons could hold and take pictures with. By doing this, they found a way to give patrons something even better to take a picture with so they didn’t feel as inclined to snap a photo of any copyrighted materials. 

This mobile epidemic in the theatre has been around for a while now; Gene Carr even wrote his own thoughts about it back in 2014! So, should mobile devices in the theatre be seen as a nuisance or as an opportunity for free marketing through social media? Either way, it is hard to ignore the fact that mobile devices are here to stay and even the theater is no longer sacred.

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