It’s a sold out house, the second performance of Numesthesia, my third Capital Fringe Festival show. The audience is great. I’m feeling their energy; the musicians and I are riding a synergistic wave with them. We’re in the moment. We’re all helping each other. There’s a communal spirit that unites audience and performers.
And then the phone rings. And continues to ring for what seems to be eternity. I pause. It continues. I make a small joke that incorporates one of the characters I’m talking about. The ringing eventually stops and I continue.
A couple of minutes later, the same phone rings again. Again, it is not silenced and continues for what now seems a little longer than eternity.
“Turn it off,” I say loudly. The audience applauds.
A member of the audience hollers out, “Who is it? Where is that person?”
I have no idea who is the owner of the phone.
“I knew an actor,” I say, “who physically attacked a patron for doing what you just did. You’re lucky I’m not an actor.”
Laughter and more applause.
The play continues. But something is broken; something is lost.
For the remainder of the play, I’m not all there. I’m rattled and can’t help but have the phone incidents replaying in my brain while I’m trying to stay focused. I’m not able to give the audience all they deserve. I’m letting them down.
There is a compact in live theater between those on stage and those in the audience. We’re all in this together. Those of us on stage may not be able to see you (we can hear you), but we are joyfully aware of you. Your energy and encouragement offer us nourishment. Everyone plays a role, and each of us is equally important.
Break that compact with a ringing phone, and bond is damaged; the experience is lessened.
Numesthesia is a comedy, but it does have an emotionally resonant ending. Just as we are building to that, the phone rings again and does not stop. I stop. I wait.
“This is the big ending we’re getting to,” I tell the audience. “We’re going to have to go back a little ways.”
When the phone finally stops ringing. I gather myself together, repeat a few lines, and make it to the end.
I’ve let the audience down. We’ve all had a pretty good experience, and we have a funny story to tell about the phone, but I’m more sad than angry that one person managed to damage a communal theatrical experience.
From now on, just as the house lights go down, our stage manager says the following, “Please, do not just silence, but turn off your cell phones. An incessantly ringing phone disrupted a previous performance multiple times. Mayhem and bloodshed ensued. Turn them off.”
Note: Our reviewer John Bavoso was there that night and noted the interruptions in his 5 star review of the performance.
Numesthesia‘s last performance is July 22nd. Details and tickets.
What’s your worst cell phone moment in a theatre?