Show Stoppers: A Brief History of Rude and Disruptive Behavior in Theater

A noisy group of drummers are the latest examples of a new trend — call it Theater Interruptus

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Helen Mirren bows at the curtain call during the press night performance of 'The Audience' at the Gielgud Theatre on Mar. 5, 2013, in London.

Last week, Helen Mirren won an Olivier Award—the West End’s most prestigious accolade—for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the play The Audience. And during a weekend performance of the show, she gave an impromptu performance as a Queen not at all amused. As The Daily Telegraph reports, Dame Helen went outside at intermission to loudly scold a group of nearby drummers whose playing could be heard in the theater. (The drummers were parading to promote a May 26 gay festival called As One In The Park and had stopped right outside the stage door.) And yes, Mirren was dressed in full costume while she gave delivered her royal dressing-down. One of the parade organizers told the Telegraph that seeing Mirren as the Queen “cussing and swearing” was “a new one.”

That may be so, but the circumstances aren’t that new at all. The pesky percussionists are part of a long-ish history of dramatic disturbances, one that is— not surprisingly—dominated by mobile phones.

May 31, 2006: A cell phone goes off during a matinee of The History Boys on Broadway. The late Richard Griffiths—who had also shamed owners of ringing mobile phones during previous interruptions when the play ran in London—stops the show and starts a scene over from the beginning, warning the audience that he would only do so once.

June 21, 2009: Patti LuPone, in concert in Las Vegas, sees someone in the audience taking pictures. She stops the show and asks what’s going on out there, but receives no response. And it’s not her first time at that particular rodeo: earlier in 2009, during a Broadway performance of Gypsy, she stopped the show when someone else tried to take a picture.

Sept. 23, 2009: A cell phone goes off during a performance of A Steady Rain on Broadway…and, minutes later, goes off again. Stars Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig stop the play to admonish the offender—and the entire incident was caught on video.

December 2011: While headlining in Richard III in Sydney, actor Kevin Spacey does double duty as noise enforcer: first, admonishing (while in character) the owner of a cell phone and, during a later performance, shining a laser pointer at audience members who were talking amongst themselves.

Jan. 10, 2012: A cell phone goes off during a performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony at the New York Philharmonic. Conductor Alan Gilbert stops the performance and asks the phone’s owner to shut off the device, even though the man at first reportedly denies that the offending iPhone marimba was coming from his pocket.

Mar. 22, 2012: A cell phone goes off during the emotional climax of Death of a Salesman on Broadway, during which actress Linda Edmond completes the show’s final monologue.

Nov. 11, 2012: An audience member seated in the balcony at a performance of Grace on Broadway vomits into the orchestra. Stars Paul Rudd and Michael Shannon reportedly continue with the show, perhaps raising the volume a bit, but joke about it during the curtain call.

December 2012: Patti LuPone seems to have changed her tactics. Although an audience member at her play The Anarchist tries to use an iPhone app as a hearing aid and ends up creating a screeching feedback sound, she lets the show go on.

As for the London drummers, they stopped their Saturday noise-making and appear to have taken no offense. After all, all publicity is good publicity—and they’re promoting press coverage of Mirren’s outburst on the As One In The Park Facebook page.

(MORENinjas Keep Noisy Theater-Goers In Line)

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