The Show Must Go On; How The Pros Deal With Distractions

by Michael Mahany | 7/26/2017 4:08 PM

It’s happened to all of us: you’re out for an evening at the theatre, the show is wonderful, things couldn’t be better…and, suddenly, from three rows over, someone’s cell phone rings. That pit in your stomach opens up— and, even knowing it’s not your phone, it’s a terrible, gut churning, awkward, tortuous feeling. The sounds of the ringing stings your ears, and all that you and everyone else in the room can think is: when will it end?! How many rings does this person’s phone have?! Why do they have to have a customized ringtone!?


There’s no doubt that by now that you, either from the stage as a dancer or as an audience member, have been in the presence of some sort of audience distraction. Be it a cellphone ring, people talking loudly, flash photos, opening a candy wrapper during a dramatic scene— any one of these is enough to drive both dancers and audience members batty, but these days, some performers have had enough with the distractions and are tackling the issue personally.


Mamie Parris. Photo Credit:


Mamie Parris, who plays Grizabella in the revival of Cats on Broadway, set social media ablaze Monday morning when she posted about how she handled a theatre patron’s distracting behavior during last Sunday’s performance. According to Parris’ twitter feed, when she and the rest of

the cast grew frustrated with the audience member’s repeated texting throughout the matinee (including during her eleven o’clock number, Memory) she attempted to actually take the phone from him.


Following her initial tweet, Parris provided her social-media fans a little more on the incident with this follow-up:


“Y’all, I am not kidding. I *crawled* to the edge of the stage, grabbed the guy’s phone, then stood & angry-belted till I was out of breath.” she tweeted.


In an exclusive interview with Dance Network, Parris humorously recounted the details of the incident.


“This guy was in the front row, just on his phone texting through half the show. I was singing Memory twelve feet away from him— and I saw the light of his phone… and just stared at him and sang until [the light] went off. So, I continued with the song, and right after my very dramatic collapse, I look up to sing and HE'S ON HIS PHONE AGAIN! I saw red and just instinctively started crawling and dragging my lifeless cat body to the foot of the stage and grabbed his phone with one paw, all while singing ‘Like a flower as the dawn is breaking, the memory is faaaading…’ . Since he was staring at his phone, he didn’t even notice me— until I grabbed it. He reflexively pulled the phone back then looked at me with this ridiculous, oblivious grin! —all this was happening around the time of the big arpeggio leading to ‘TOUCH MEEE!’,— so I stood up, stone straight, and walked like Beyonce at a halftime show straight to centerstage, threw my arms up and rage-belted for the gods. I was shaking from the confrontation. The GALL!”


Mamie Parris In Cats. Photo Credit:


Extra: Watch Mamie Parris as Grizabella sing Memory from Cats


Dance Network was curious about what other stories might be out there, so we reached out to some other Broadway performers and dancers to hear some of the best slash worst audience distractions they’ve witnessed.


“I remember one time when I was sitting onstage in Anything Goes, there’s a club scene before the big number Blow Gabriel, Blow — when a cell phone starts ringing, probably in the third or fourth row,” one dancer told us. “Next thing I notice, the lady who’s phone rang, turned on these super bright lights on the sides of her glasses, like she was going to go into a gold mine or something! She starts digging in her bag looking for her ringing cell phone, but the person next to her kept tapping her on the shoulder, to, I don’t know, tell her to stop her phone from ringing?— but, it only made things worse, because every time they tapped her she’d look around, and these headlights would shine all over the room. I was trying so hard to ignore it and stay in the moment— but, it was impossible not to laugh.”


“I entered for the top of Act II in Wicked, and, a lot of the time the entr’acte would take people by surprise, and they’d still be taking their seats and getting situated… anyway, the music had started and we’d been onstage for well over a minute, and directly in the front row— three feet from me, this guy was texting,” another performer told DN. “I started staring him down, like singing directly at him, assuming he’d stop, but he had no idea. So, I began incorporating this sort of ‘texting’ pantomime hand motion into my choreography, all while staring and singing at him. He still didn’t notice, but, his girlfriend did. She saw me, and I saw her see me— so she tapped him on the shoulder, and when he looked over to her, she pointed up to me— the look on his face when our eyes met was priceless.”


Thank Goodness from Wicked— Entr’acte. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus


“When I was on the national tour of Wicked​, an audience member who’d had a few too many, stood up and started yelling and cursing at someone during the song I’m Not That Girl,” another performer from Wicked recalled. “That’s one of the more intimate moments in the show, it’s this beautiful reflective ballad…so, it was really bad, like, really bad…but our Elphaba​ just kept singing— all while security and the ushers grabbed this drunk audience member and threw them out. Our Elphie got a standing ovation afterwards, and the next day, the theatre sent her flowers for being such a pro. Funny enough, I had NO IDEA any of this was happening until later because I was standing off-stage wearing a huge mask, and I couldn’t hear any of it.”


A performer from Rock Of Ages told us about an audience member who got a little too close to the action.


“One time at Rock, this guy ran up to the lip of the apron and started ‘raining money’ onto the stage. Except, like, real money. He was obviously three…four… or five sheets to the wind— and, he couldn’t have been standing there more than five seconds before two of our huge security guards snatched him up and were carrying him down the aisle like a suitcase, all while the audience cheered on our security and the performers who kept the show going. It’s crazy how these ‘live’ moments can really rally a cast and an audience— it’s something that’s original and unrehearsed, and makes for a truly unique experience, for everyone. Oh— and the cast donated the seventeen dollars the guy threw onstage to the cocktail servers and the security guards who had to deal with that guy.”


Have you ever been onstage or in the audience for a wild distraction caper? Tweet us and tell us your story.