So, closed captioning has been in the news a bit. Let's talk about it as it pertains to theater.
Live theater is awesome. I recognize in these days of just about every patron arriving at the theater with a recording device - because all our phones are recording devices now - it's kind of wild. Add in a pandemic, and now actors are risking their lungs to share shows with us. So yes, it is a reasonable concern that actors have, that some audience member is recording the show, and has plans to sell that recording and cut into their profit margin. Even before the pandemic theater had a money problem. Live theater is expensive to make, and many people have way cheaper ways to spend their time. Yes, live theater is also unrepeatable magic. But gosh I've left shows mad, annoyed, confused, and I do think that tension is part of the experience but not everyone does or can at that price point.
It's why I love regional theater.
And I also wish we made better plans to incorporate cast albums, love captured, and streaming, so that a good option was available to folks who can't travel, or can't risk that someone in the audience tonight removed their mask to cough.
So I get why actors get annoyed when they see patrons on their phones. It's annoying to be doing almost anything for someone who is ignoring you. Someone who is planning to cut your profits also sucks.
But I have been in theaters where the program directed me to an app for closed captioning. My current phone also has a native live captioning app. These days Tiktoks, and YouTube videos have cations more often than not. I watch almost all TV with captions because I really hate the TV being loud so I can hear it over the phone.
So many of us are used to seeing these options, why not live theater too.
And so in a recent incident an actor in a musical reprimanded an audience member for recording the show, but the audience member was using captioning. The audience member was using a device provided by the venue, but I'm sure staring past the theater lights these things all look the same.
Look, I have been stuck next to talkers, audience members who think the show requires live play by play, people who ask for line repeats from their neighbor, and an actually ringing phone. It is annoying. It is not the magical live experience I wish for when I go to the theater. So I get why it's fun to watch actors reprimand an audience member for things we may have thought in our head.
But someone once said, anytime someone does something annoying, stop and wonder if it could be disability. I can only hope that captioning devices might mean less, "What did he just say?" I always wonder if that phone call might actually be urgent. And the person with their phone out might be using a captioning device, or just taking notes for their review.
Similar to those constant pictures of teenagers on their phones in museums, when those very museums are peppered with QR codes, encouraging you to look up additional information, sometimes the device in their hand is actually proof they are paying attention. And so maybe, reprimanding them is not the move, even if it feels satisfying in the moment.