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London theatres may lock up audiences’ phones after illicit James Norton photos

Outrage over naked images of actor published in MailOnline could prompt move to curb cameraphones

James Norton (right) as Jude in A Little Life, with Luke Thompson as Willem. Photograph: Jan Versweyveld

Theatre audiences in London’s West End could be made to lock up their phones to prevent illicit images of actors being taken during performances.

The suggestion comes after naked photos of James Norton on stage in A Little Life were published on MailOnline.

The images were quickly taken down after outrage on Twitter, with audiences pointing out that the theatre had handed out stickers for cameraphones and leaflets saying filming was not allowed.

“I’d be very surprised if this latest incident doesn’t act as a trigger for it to become the norm for audiences to have to put their phones in lockboxes at shows starring famous people or with musical numbers that people want to film,” said Alistair Smith, the editor of the Stage newspaper.

Dr Kirsty Sedgman, the editor of the book series Audience Research and author of On Being Unreasonable, agreed the photos of Norton were so clearly an “absolute violation of the unwritten contract between audiences and performers” that it could lead to change.

“We’ve just recently seen legal measures taken against things like upskirting, which acknowledge that having any part of one’s naked self being shared without your consent is absolutely immoral,” she said.

“It could well be that this is the incident that shocks theatres and actors to the point that all performances will deny people their phones entirely by compelling them to use lockboxes and bags.”

Zach Wyatt, Luke Thompson and James Norton in A Little Life. Photograph: Jan Versweyveld

Norton was not the first actor to have their image illicitly snapped during a performance: last year, the US actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson said the leaking of a naked photo of fellow Take Me Out cast member Jesse Williams had appalled him.

Theatres and actors have struggled to contain the problem without removing people’s phones. Audiences of Good, a play starring David Tennant, and of Cabaret, starring Eddie Redmayne, had stickers placed over their phone cameras. Benedict Cumberbatch directly appealed to audiences of the Barbican’s Hamlet for their help in stopping filming with cameraphones.

Smith said filming actors on stage was in a different league of transgressive behaviour to the recent surge in complaints about rowdy conduct by theatregoers.

“People who behave badly at the theatre because they’ve drunk too much – often alcohol sold by the theatre itself – or come to a play expecting a party because the theatre has advertised itself as ‘the best party in town’ – are a different type to those who decide to take their photos despite being explicitly warned by the theatre that it’s not allowed and sometimes even after being given stickers to put over their cameras,” he said.

But Sedgman said blanket rules forbidding the use of phones in auditoriums could cause problems for those who use their devices as disability aids: the producers of Broadway’s Hadestown had to apologise to an audience member last year after a cast member publicly reprimanded her after mistaking her captioning device for a recording device.

However, some performances have found a way to embrace audiences’ use of cameraphones. Six, the multi-award-winning Broadway musical, invites the audience to film and photograph the final dance.

“We’ve always been happy for the audiences to capture the Megamix, the last two minutes of the evening,” said Kenny Wax, the producer of Six and vice-president of the Society of London Theatre.

Wax does not approve of audiences filming or taking photographs during performances. But, he said, in the last two minutes of Six “we are not story telling, building character or creating suspense”.

He said allowing images of the Megamix to be shared online had boosted Six’s popularity.

“The sharing of these videos across all social media platforms was a key marketing strategy in the early months of the show, when we were brand building and at the time the title was largely unknown,” he said. “I’ve no doubt that streaming of the Megamix brought awareness to the show which to coin a phrase ‘money can’t buy’.”

A Little Thought:

I agree with this 100%

Frequently I see theatregoers including friends posting images on social media of a show they have seen that night or the night before.

I feel it is disrespectful to your fellow theatregoers as holding a mobile up taking images distracts others and restricts their view, they have paid for the ticket as well and should be able to enjoy the performance without hindrance.


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