Cumberphone Campaign “Mobiles Manifesto”
To be launched October 2015…
“Tweet, blog, hashtag the sh*t out of this one” – Benedict Cumberbatch, August 2015
“We need a big public awareness campaign” – Mark Shenton, The Stage, September 2015
“Other than announcements at the start of the show and vigilant theatre staff, we haven’t been given examples of any other measures being taken.” – Society of London Theatre spokeswoman, The Times, August 2015
Hopefully, you soon will…
Twitter – @cumberphone #cumberphone
Enquiries – firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/cumberphone
In the meantime…
We will attempt to flesh out our modest proposals further with the launch of our Manifesto in October. But we’re not attempting to get elected to anything – we’re merely hoping to gain your interest and win your support. The Manifesto will be a living, breathing document, open to all for fresh ideas and input as the campaign progresses.
The Cumberphone Campaign has been launched to finally and properly address the vexing issue of mobile phones in theatres. It’s got to be more than simply “turn it off” or “no photos”, with varying pre-show announcements and haphazard brave ushering. We need a unified approach across Theatreland, and we need it now. If we in Theatre can harness our collective imagination and creativity to the fullest (something we should be pretty good at), combined with tech savvy and marketing nous, then we can hopefully have a dramatic impact.
We do not claim to have all the answers. Neither can we claim to be the only ones asking the questions. We’re just part of the ensemble, here to help enrich the harmony.
We are emphatically not a bunch of “huffy Luddite Luvvies” – we love our phones, we really do. (You’re most likely reading this on your phone too, right? Well, so long as you’re not doing it during a show, that’s fine by us). We aim to bring together a broad spectrum of theatre-lovers, from the exasperated angry shushers to the laid-back shoulder-shruggers.
Our Mobiles Manifesto concentrates on offering some positive steps (some far-fetched, some surely a no-brainer) that we in Theatreland can take towards better addressing this issue collectively.
There’s no panacea, no one solution.
But surely, if we all pull together, we can do better? Because at the moment, the phones are winning – but they’re our phones, so let’s show them who’s boss! They’re always going to go off from time to time no matter what we do, but at the moment we’re just making it far too easy for them. We can’t sniff at them over our pince-nez and hope for the best, but neither should we throw our hands up in the air and simply give up. It’s also understandable that so many of us these days (and that number is only going to increase with the newer generation of theatre-goers and the further proliferation and integration of tech into our very personhood) think selfies and filming and mid-show texting is ok – we’re addicted, aren’t we?
You can even use your phone on the Tube and on airplanes now. The Theatre is one of the few remaining bastions, or rather refuges – and we should aim to more enticingly sell it as such. We should think of it less as a fortress, and more as a spa – regarded not just as a place where you can’t use your phone as you normally would for the other 21 hours of your small-screen-dominated day, but rather a place where we feel we are relieved and grateful not to be able to do so. It should feel less like entering a prison camp, and more like going to your best friend’s wedding or your grandmother’s funeral – where the concern about your phone intruding upon the event is paramount (well, after the joy/sorrow of the important family occasion, naturally).
We’re not anti-phone at all. Far from it – we’re very pro-phone, and so we’d simply like Theatre to catch up a little faster please.
We want Theatre to better embrace technology (no, we’re not advocating for “tweet seats” – an “operatically stupid” idea in the eyes of many) – we want better WiFi; we want more e-ticketing and theatre apps (no, we’re not sponsored by TodayTix); we want more digital programmes and content (NT Backstage is great, and they’re finally getting a proper mobile site up soon too); we want more NT Live and Digital Theatre and the like; and we want theatres to interact with the audience through their phones far better than they do now.
Great efforts are being made to have us buy our interval drinks through ATG’s Ordertorium app (with accompanying all-seats leaflet drop) and via the likes of the Barbican Bars app. So why not make more of an effort to sell us ideas through our phones, rather than just tickets and drinks and programmes? Perhaps, for instance, we’d be more likely to turn our phones off if we were texted a link to a star-studded funny short film (like these) than blared at over a PA system?
Education and a cultural shift will only go so far however. In the West End in particular a huge proportion of the audience are from overseas or out-of-town and often irregular theatre-goers – so no amount of brilliant and ceaseless coverage in the likes of The Stage is going to have much of a direct significant impact on these folk.
So our best option is to do a better job of the pre-show routine. But this isn’t just about the announcements a few moments before curtains-up – however funny or pleading or threatening they may be. From the moment you buy your tickets, there are a number of ‘nudges’ that can be deployed to better prepare theatre-goers. We aim to better institutionalise these processes across the industry – and there’s safety in numbers. No one theatre or production wants to be that awkward, prissy, irascible nerd who won’t stop banging on about mobile phones, do they? But some can certainly blaze a trail.
Places like the Lyric Hammersmith who do so much work with young people should integrate phone-ed into their outreach, productions like the record-sell-outs that are the Barbican’s Hamlet, the Menier’s Funny Girl or the forthcoming Leicester Curve tour of Pixie Lott in Breakfast at Tiffany’s will be able to reach out to fresh parts of the audience, and we hope they embrace that opportunity. Interactive rowdy musicals like Rocky Horror, or smash hits like Mormon, can grab the audience by the figurative throat. And Hangmen at the Royal Court, well, you can see where we’re going with this.
Hampstead and the Almeida, as well as transferring brilliant productions, can also be conduits for innovative phone initiatives too. (Anyone who saw Privacy at the Donmar and who didn’t change their phone’s meta-data-gathering location settings afterwards, raise your hand.) Michael Grandage (with his great pricing initiatives) and Kenneth Branagh (nice trailers by the way) and the new regimes at the National and the Old Vic – let’s see what you’ve got. And as for the exciting new Hytner/Starr theatre – what a golden opportunity to get things right from the outset.
Sorry if this all sounds too London-centric – we just thought we should probably start by shooting the fish in that barrel first. But through the likes of ATG and START – and a dedicated band of touring actors – we hope to spread far and wide. The West End may be the epicentre of the Theatre universe, but – just as the Nicene Creed wasn’t born in Bethlehem – we fully expect some brilliant idea or shining beacon of excellence to emerge from the likes of Chichester Festival, Theatre Royal Bath, the Edinburgh Fringe, or perhaps the Sheffield Crucible with its wealth of experience hosting the ultimate of all hear-a-pin-drop events, Snooker. So it’s not just about London, and it’s not solely about “theatre” – those companies and venues who produce dance, recitals, concerts, gigs, stand-ups – there’s plenty to be learnt and shared across the board and we welcome ideas from all quarters.
Theatre can draw on the most creative, funny and inspiring bunch. Phones are a bit of an issue, aren’t they, and not just at the theatre, so let’s see if we can do something about it then shall we? If not us, then who? If not now, then when?
As for the pre-show announcements – be they films, safety curtain projections, a polite FOH manager or an hilarious cast member – they need, in our view, to be more substantial. They should not be brief reminders or stern threats – they should be an integral part of the theatre-going experience. We need to consider the notion of having them more akin to the old Curtain-Raisers. And not to the detriment of, or distraction from, the main event either – but something positive that can serve to warm up the audience and bring us all together (that band playing before One Man, Two Guvnors being a superb example of how to get everyone properly in the mood). More like a 5-star gourmet amuse-bouche served ‘compliments of the chef’ than a basket of stale bread just plonked down on the table by an underpaid tip-less waiter as they monotonously read from the ‘specials’ board.
That’s not to say, of course, that one size fits all – whether that be technological or theatrical. What works in the Arcola or at The Park isn’t necessarily going to fly in Drury Lane or the Apollo. We get that.
It’s our sincere hope that this campaign can play its small part in bringing us all together to discuss these issues and explore these ideas perhaps a little better and more substantially than we’ve managed to thus far. And crucially, in discussing them, to focus on how to actually implement them and establish industry-wide best practice.