Artfully Edmonds commentary: Time to require a cell phone competency test?


In the middle of the second act during a recent local theatre performance, the man in seat D3 receives a phone call. Hey — jazzy ringtone, man in seat D3. I imagine a scenario where his adult daughter is calling him to invite him to a Memorial Day barbecue. Fortunately, he is dexterous enough to turn his phone off after the third or fourth ring. Several words come to mind — negligent, unnecessary, disruptive, disrespectful top the list. But hey, it’s not the end of the world. At least he didn’t answer it in the middle of a Mozart concerto — something I witnessed at Benaroya Hall not too long ago.

The audience seems relieved, our collective attention returns to the stage. It’s at about this time that the daughter decides that since Dad’s not answering, she’ll try calling Mom. Unfortunately, Mom is occupying seat D4. Her cell phone volume control is set at 11 and she allows her phone to ring 10 times before permitting it to spool over to voicemail. To make matters worse, she is somewhat less adroit than her husband.

We are treated to the full 10 rings as she struggles with the decision of what to do. Should she evacuate to the lobby? (the choice I would have favored). Or should she continue her fruitless attempt to unzip her purse? — since somewhere in its deep recesses, among the many essential items contained within, resides the offending object. Sadly, in the heat of the moment, her judgment clouded, all eyes upon her, she chooses instead to sit on her purse. Admittedly, this mutes the sound somewhat. After what seems an eternity, the ringing stops — our collective attention once more returns to the stage. The actors having moved on without us, performing a few pages of the script in our absence. We struggle to regain the thread of the plot. At a hushed break in the dialogue, a final loud notification of her daughter’s lengthy voicemail rings out. Mercifully, that is the last we hear from our neighbors.

Just as one is expected to show some proficiency in operating a motor vehicle before being issued a permit, perhaps some test should be administered to establish cell phone competency.

Something like this perhaps:

1 – Can you follow the clear instructions of the staff at the beginning of the performance?

2 – If you fail to turn your phone off (as we have all done from time to time) can you quickly and quietly do so should your phone interrupt the performance?

3 – Do you at least have the good sense and decency to exit the auditorium should you fail to comply with questions one or two?

If you answered no to each of these questions, it’s time to surrender your phone, or at the very least to leave it at home or in the car.

— By James Spangler

9 Replies to “Artfully Edmonds commentary: Time to require a cell phone competency test?”

  1. It was an embarrassing interruption that made me feel mortified for the actors. I’ve heard there’s a way to check cell phones at the door, sort of like a coat check, that some venues have been experimenting with.


  2. Bless you James for calling these folks out and those who fumble with their phones in public places instead of getting up and leaving! We were at the opposite side of the small theater but it had the same effect – disruptive, disturbing, down right rude. We couldn’t believe they just stayed in their seats! The actors didn’t miss a beat, however – but the audience sure wanted to beat a miss… and mister!


  3. I’d suggest a reading competency test for ALLcell phone users- the rude, “rules don’t apply to me” attitude is prevalent across many venues, not just at theater. My health club has MANY signs posted that let members know that the only place to use their cell phone is in the lobby. Yet as I undressed to prep for Aqua class, the woman next to me powered up her smartphone. I mentioned the large sign and suggested she obey the directive. She ignored me. My 2nd request was met with a snarky comment -was I worried about naked pictures? She finally decamped to the vanity area, still in locker room, ignored the posted sign and my request altogether.


    1. Some people believe that the rules about anything just don’t apply to them. More people confronting them may possibly help.


  4. Best thing to do is not just turn off the ringer but to “power off” the phone. That way not even the slightest interruption can occur during the performance. If your life is so important that you can’t be incommunicado for a couple hours, maybe you shouldn’t be attending public performances.


  5. Put a shredder outside the theater or venue – there are plenty of times when I’d happily toss my phone in! 🙂


  6. I personally appreciate a reminder before any event. I try to remember to turn my phone off, but sometimes… the reminder can save me.
    In a by gone era the usher(s) of a theater were responsible for removing or at least, warning patrons of the rules, if there was any disturbing behavior. Often knowing that there was the possibility of being removed or humiliated by being called out in front of everyone was enough to encourage polite behavior in a public theater. But being polite seems to be a fading concept.


  7. The manager of the Edmonds Theater addresses the audience from the front of the theater before every showing. Among other things, he warns that he will personally throw out anyone caught using a cellphone during the movie. It seems to work.


  8. I live in New York City and attend theater both on and off Broadway on a regular basis. Like the legendary antics of the performer whom I refer to as “Patti NoPhone”, I too am appalled by the lack of courtesy for some theater goers who truly believe they are entitled to utilize their devices during the middle of a live performance. There is no polite way to refer to the selfish behavior of these twitwits who text, answer calls, take photos and film live performances, or make more of a racket keeping their phone on a constant ring as they try to dig it out of their purse to either answer it, silence it, or on the rare occasion, actually turn it off. I stopped going to movies because of the hideous behavior of the public as far as cell phone use has become, and I have actually even seen the potential of fights break out simply because somebody forgot to turn off their phone. The one time it happened to me, a serious phone checker, it was a very loud amber alert, and I was so mortified by my mistake that I nearly shrunk into my chair to be even smaller than my playbill.


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