Saturday, January 25, 2014
You kids quit texting on my lawn!
Last night, I attended a student production of Hamlet at NMSU. It was an incredibly brave, ambitious thesis project directed by Claire Koleske who poured her life into the production and her own performance, making impressively inventive use of a small concrete box of a space. It had some wonderful people in it with whom I've worked before and/or whom have taken acting classes with me, like Aaron, Charles, and William. A couple of blocks away, in the fancy new theatre, Edward Asner was playing FDR in a benefit performance, but I was much happier being here, seeing this raw encounter with Shakespeare by emerging artists.
And I almost ejected the two guys sitting next to me in the second row. Really, I almost did.
First, it was the texting. Constantly. Every couple of minutes. Two young guys, in reserved seats which means someone in the show invited them and made sure there would be good seats for them. Homey next to me kept reaching into his pants to pull out his phone, and the little light would come on in the corner of my eye, and the dude next to him was doing the same thing. The guy next to me in the camouflage Nike hat (I guess Nike does military contracting now?) with sparkly studs in his ears (so much for the camouflage dude) was at it with both thumbs, paying slightly more attention to the show when Ms. Lily Staski took the stage wearing fishnets. But even that earthy attraction did not keep him from his world of swiping and typing out real-time journalistic impressions of whatever to the Algonquin Roundtable or whoever was pressed to their phones waiting for his live tweets about life, the universe, and everything EXCEPT the performance taking place a few feet away from his designer sneakers. Dude next to him was doing the same thing, except he had evolved to a point where he knew he would be texting every minute or so, so he kept his phone out. His one concession to the people around him was his lame effort at cupping his phone so that the flickering light simply made his palms glow. I looked for an opportunity to pick homey's pocket or splash some of my San Pelegrino on his phone, but he was too quick, tucking the phone into his pants and removing it again and again.
Intermission came and he and his buddy went outside, presumably to text some more without the constant distraction of people performing one of the great plays of English-language literature in the same room. I thought for sure they would slip away and that would be that. But they came back! I felt simultaneous joy and dread. They were really kids -- high school seniors, probably. Pretty soon, they were back at their phones, and they seemed to reach a point where they had exhausted their insights and had nothing left to share and no tweets to read, and they both fell forward in their seats, heads between their knees, as if struggling with air sickness. They remained for a very long while in this desperate posture. During a scene change, I contemplated simply picking them up by their belt loops and disposing of them like large trash bags. They looked light enough. There was, however, the possibility they would engage in physical combat with me. Physical combat is work and yesterday I just wasn't in a mood to work at all. Like, at all. So I just left them as they were and enjoyed some more of the show.
I'm thrilled to see young people going to live theatre, and that seems more important than a few moments of irritation. It just happens that complaining is fun. But let's get to the point, which is actually pretty simple and did not need this long "cranky old guy" preamble in the first place: As with everything else, if we want young people -- tweens and teens especially -- to try out live theatre and symphonies and ballet -- we need to welcome them and offer a little orientation. Among people who love the theatre and spend lots of time in it, we can forget it's a culture and there is some consensus on what is okay and what isn't. And frankly, it's not just young people -- the older adults sometimes can use a little reminder. (And one does meet adults who do not venture for the first time into a theatre before they are in middle age.) A lot of people just aren't used to being part of a theatre audience. I know, big news flash.
One cool moment with these guys was when Hamlet kills Polonius and the guy who cupped his phone was taken by surprise and said out loud, "Oh SHIT." Which is what everyone was thinking anyway, so that was cool. For a moment, we had him.
And then he wrote a text about it. Natch.
There is no new insight in any of this post. But writing it out has helped me look at the guys in a different light (theatre metaphor) so that I stop fantasizing about penetrating homey's hand and his iPhone with an ice pick.