Mobiles Manifesto

Theatreland’s Mobiles Manifesto

This isn’t about being more draconian, it’s about being more innovative.


We came up with the idea for the Manifesto when we saw a statement from the Society of London Theatre saying: “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.”

Well, here are just a few to help get the ball rolling…

The issue of mobile phone disruptions is by no means straightforward. But there are essentially three basic issues:

  • accidental discharge
  • addictive checking
  • photos & filming

The ideas below are aimed to tackle one or more of these, sometimes all three.

The nature and frequency of different types of interruptions can often vary between musicals and plays, between new works and classics, larger venues and small, and occur in differing seating sections and perhaps dependent upon star casting or well known songs – but that they happen is undeniable, ubiquitous and universal.

Making mere “announcements” (if these are even made; sometimes it’s just an occasional reminder from a polite usher on the way in) is clearly inadequate. Having a small sign by the children’s playground asking you to put your dog on a lead may have worked for the little terrier that was our Nokia or pager, but we are now riding bareback on a blood-thirsty T-Rex that it is our “Smart” phone.

So Theatre needs to catch up.

Obviously, different venues and productions will be able to employ different solutions. There’s no one-size fits all – just a need to recognise that currently we’re all about as helplessly naked as the Emperor.

You can read our Campaign Launch Press Release, a Transcript of our Conversation with Time Out, and our Stealth Phone page for more on where we’re coming from, as well as our Home page.

It’s worth also having a look at this web-post for why we don’t think that signal-jamming and geo-fencing and other draconian potential measures are a practical or even desirable option.



Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitter Nudge, Nudge and Nudge Again – Just as we have chevrons painted on the motorway encouraging cars to keep further apart, so we can deploy a series of simple psychological nudges to better prepare audience-members. The government’s own Behavioural Insights Team, or ‘Nudge Unit’, had great success in a number of areas in changing public behaviour. Theatre can learn a lot from these, as well as from initiatives such as the “Stoptober” quit-smoking campaign.

For example: include a no-phones logo on the front of tickets (rather than burying the request in the small print on the back) and on ticket envelopes; have more and better posters up in ticket booths and theatre box offices, front-of-house and in the toilets; and even perhaps on swizzle-sticks, napkins and coasters at the bar; Ushers can wear no-phone badges; dedicated adverts or articles can be included in the programme. These can serve as a useful regular reminder (there can never be enough of those – theatre is a social, exciting and distracting place, after all), as well as a signal that the theatre takes the issue seriously. After all, as the saying goes, if you carry a big stick you’re able to walk more softly, so ushers will actually have to be less vigilant and fearsome (which nobody wants) if audiences are already being encouraged to do a better job of self-policing by being in no doubt that transgressions are taken seriously by the venue.

Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitter Modest Modifications – Seat-back pockets and jacket/handbag hooks. It’s not much good turning your phone off if you’ve nowhere safe to store it to ensure it doesn’t get knocked and turn back on, or somewhere easy to get to it should it go off unintentionally. Just as cup-holders in the cinema have become fairly standard, so too should mobile phone pockets in the theatre. Failing that, provide a seat-back hook to hang your jacket or handbag containing your mobile rather than having it roll around on the floor. Seat backs could also have a no-phones sign (although something more tasteful and less garish than the no-phone logos that appear elsewhere) – something nice embroidered onto the seat-back pocket perhaps. Or maybe provide people with phone-carry-pouches to hang around their necks.

ATG Theatres have gone to the trouble and expense of installing new seat-back pockets for their Ordertorium drinks menus, so it surely isn’t too much to ask that they consider ones for mobiles too?


Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitterInterval – Make a further announcement at the interval. Many people have turned their phones back on in the interval, then there’s a rush between the loo, the ice-cream, the phonecall to the babysitter, and the bar (to collect your ice-cube maracas for the second-half), before breathlessly taking your seat moments before curtain-up. Accidental phone interruptions are very common in the second-half, and we can and should do more to avoid them.

Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitter“Project 24601” – Directly engaging with the audience through their mobile phones is more likely to get them to turn it off than a faceless PA announcement, or FOH staff appearing just before curtain-up. But this can’t be done through passive platforms such as Twitter alone. Theatres need to be able to text directly, and that means making providing a mobile number at the time of booking more commonplace. This can be required to a certain extent (with some obvious exceptions such as OAP or children’s tickets) – but mainly it should be incentivized more broadly through reduced booking fees and money-off vouchers. Even if a mobile number isn’t provided for all ticket-holders at the time of booking, a unique code/number printed on each ticket can subsequently be sent by ticket-holders via text message (e.g. to a suitably stagey number such as 24601) in exchange for such cash-back or other benefits.

Sending texts isn’t just about “no-phone” messages – having your seat numbers, theatre location, and show running times easily to hand is also very useful. One can be sent when you book tickets, a reminder on the day of or before, and one within an hour or less of curtain-up – and all with strict data protection rules to ensure it’s only used for information rather than marketing purposes, an obvious barrier for many. Such text message interaction is fairly standard when you buy train tickets for instance – a process that often includes an invitation to download an app to store your ticket in an e-wallet. TodayTix and other theatre apps are expanding this practise too, and some tickets already come with barcodes printed on them, so we just need the technological advances to be embraced, accelerated and expanded.

Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitterCast Videos – Any text message reminding you to turn off your phone should also include a link to a brief video, with the cast asking you to turn your phone off – surely more likely to have an effect than a faceless PA announcement, or FOH staff appearing just before curtain-up. AvenueQ in New York released this brilliant one recently.

Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitterCast Announcements & Collective Routine – We can do more, and it can be fun – something that, far from excluding or berating audiences, can actually help better get them in the mood for the show ahead. Having cast members perform a skit, or make a direct appeal, is bound to have more of an impact than a FOH manager or PA announcement – as is involving audiences in verifiably turning off their phones together as part of a collective ritual, rather than just hoping everyone has done so already and that all that’s required is a brief reminder.

Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitter“Welcome To The Theatre” initiative – Let’s make short films from theatre’s leading lights. Aside from show-specific brief cast videos mentioned above, a wider all-theatre publicity campaign to highlight theatre’s special place as one of the few remaining public arenas where we can enjoy refuge from our small-screen-dominated existence. There is clearly scope for including these online and in digital programmes, as well as at NTLive and other screenings, and also as television adverts (see Marketing Partnerships below). We have already seen some very funny and compelling script ideas for these – but only the likes of Kenneth Branagh or Nicholas Hytner would probably be able to twist enough A-list arms to get this off the ground, so fingers crossed the momentum from and interest in this campaign helps propel them into supportive action.

Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitterCurtain-Call Snaps – Providing more opportunities for “I was there” photographs. Whether this be during any “please turn it off” pre-show skits/announcements performed by the cast (during which the taking of a photo, posting it on twitter and then all turning phones off together might be incorporated), or at the end during the curtain call. If people know they’ll be encouraged/permitted to take a photo of whichever Hollywood megastar they’ve come to see at the end of the show, they may hopefully be less inclined to snatch a disruptive one during the performance. For instance, the Barbican initially said Benedict Cumberbatch wouldn’t be appearing at the Stage Door, but as part of the strategy to help channel and contain interest and excitement during the show, he now routinely meets fans afterwards.

Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitterBabysitter/Emergency Hotline – Many parents regularly check their phones during shows. Despite the fact that we all did manage somehow before mobile communication, the current expectation of constant contact with the outside world is understandable, particularly where your own children are concerned. “My kid is sick” is a regular refrain often heard at a theatre from a persistent phone-checker. And although it may be often somewhat exaggerated, it’s most likely not entirely untrue either – as anyone with small children can testify, kids are nearly always sick to some degree or another, even if that’s only from the psychological trauma of finding monsters under the bed whilst parents have abandoned them to the care of an unknown teenager.

So theatres should provide a contact number for use in case of emergencies. Many already do of course, but this should be incorporated as standard into the ticketing process. It could be printed on the back of tickets, it could be the same number across all theatres (with a differing punch-in code to connect to a specific theatre), and it could also be included in the booking text messages (see Project 24601 above) that theatres send out with your seat numbers, so you have that information to readily provide to relatives, doctors and babysitters beforehand. Perhaps those with an expectation of potentially having to leave early, or being alerted and collected by an Usher in the event of such an emergency phonecall, could be seated at the end or rows and the back of sections – with those seats set aside at the time of booking. With such provision in place, parents will be expected to turn their phones off, and will feel more confident and secure in doing so.

Also, providing likely start/interval/finish times more clearly beforehand is helpful for these purposes as well.

Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitterClocking Off – Incorporate visible but unobtrusive digital clocks into the green Exit signs. Many of us use our phones as watches, and worrying about a potential show over-run, a bursting bladder or just habitual curiosity is a needless instance when a disruptive phone illumination can be avoided. Provide likely start/interval/finish times more clearly beforehand – on tickets (and in any pre-show texts), not just in the programme or posted in the foyer.

Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitter“Stealth Phone” campaign – Why we need an Apple Ninja function, and why putting your phone on Silent or Airplane mode doesn’t really work (see more info on our Stealth Phone page here).

Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitter“Operation Overlord” – We need to better co-ordinate efforts and proliferate best practice across theatres, not simply in addressing mobile phone use during shows, but in also better engaging with audiences through their phones for a whole range of reasons – something that will in all likelihood actually lead to a greater chance of them being turned off when required during the show. The appointment of an industry point-person as Digital Director (or Phone Czar) – as well as greater incorporation of “phones-off” strategies into all theatre companies’ digital marketing more generally – would help ensure that the likes of SOLT and ATG and STAR were pooling their efforts.

Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitterMarketing Partnerships – There’s scope for enlisting the support of the likes of mobile phone company EE (whose current standard-bearer, Kevin Bacon, has been involved in a no-phone cinema campaign in the U.S.) and others, as well as silence-obsessed brands such as Dyson and Toyota Auris. This could help fund television advertising, sponsor mobile-phone charging-lockers, take out mobiles-off-themed adverts in theatre programmes, and provide partnered digital content.

Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitterAgents of ShieldEquity should protect actors who speak out about mobile phone disruptions. Imagine if on one selected day, every actor said they’d stop the show every time there was a ringing interruption or a phone lit up or recording/photographing was discovered? There would be uproar, from audiences, producers, everyone. And greater efforts would probably be made across the industry to ensure such interruptions were avoided. This wouldn’t happen of course, as actors have ingrained in them an attitude of “the show must go on” – if the building was on fire they’d wait until the Stage Manager called a halt to the show before they stepped out of character.

But actors and ushers are the only ones who really face this problem on a daily basis. Directors only occasionally visit a show once it’s up and running, producers concerned with bums-on-seats even less so. It’s only those with the star power like Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig and Richard Griffiths who would dare “do a Patti” mid-show. Actors are increasingly expected, even contractually obliged, to market their shows on social media (having a greater number of twitter-followers is becoming an increasingly decisive factor in the casting process too), and there’s pressure not to say anything “negative” on social media or elsewhere – including highlighting the prevalence of mobile phone use by audience members, even if it’s the official policy of the theatre that such phone use should be eradicated.

Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitterUshers training – a great deal is expected of our brave ushers, and we should do more to help prepare, train and support them. Producers are obviously most concerned with protecting copyright by preventing photographs, and ushering for new shows tends to be more vigilant in this regard, but we shouldn’t look at this from the standpoint of piracy, but rather from one of collective audience enjoyment. And ushers play a vital role in that, and can at times be greatly under-appreciated. Like the Fight Club assignment where recruits are instructed to start a fight with a complete stranger and then lose, next time you’re on the Tube try asking the big mean-looking guy next to you to turn his leaking headphone volume down, or try to persuade the nice old lady with the loud clicking beeping iPhone to let you have her phone so you can turn off the keyboard and alert sounds whilst still keep the ringer nice and loud for her – then you’ll have some idea of what our thankless ushers have to go through on a nightly basis.

Guidelines for ushering differ from venue to venue, and the issue of mobile phones is increasingly creating tension between fellow audience members, as well as between audience and usher. These guys aren’t paid well enough to act as bouncers or police officers – they’re theatre-lovers (often between-jobs actors) and we need to do more to equip them with the tools to do their jobs. Often, an unfailing polite reminder from one of these lovely folk to turn your phone off as you enter the auditorium is enough to ensure compliance from the vast majority of us, at least it should be. But as this whole campaign highlights, it sadly isn’t nearly enough.

Cumberphone_Campaign_logo_twitterTogether, through creativity, innovation, determination and co-operation, we can all hopefully work together to find some better lasting solutions.

These aren’t necessarily solid recommendations for which we’re advocating with equal favour and fervour, but they are all ideas we believe are worthy of exploring further. It may be called a Manifesto, but we’re not attempting to get elected to anything – we’re merely hoping to gain your interest and win your support and to help persuade our esteemed theatres and theatre bodies to take up this cause themselves.

It’s all just part of helping to get people talking.


Securing theatre funding, discovering fresh talent, bringing in new audiences, increasing diversity and opportunity across the industry – all of these are of course greater priorities. But mobile phones are increasingly becoming a bit of an issue too, so we’re just here to help play our small part.

There is lots more information elsewhere on our website. Please see in particular our Home page, our Stealth Phone page and our Cumbies Awards page.

It’s worth also having a look at this web-post for why we don’t think that signal-jamming and geo-fencing and other draconian potential measures are a practical or even desirable option.

These are just some of the headline suggestions to give you a flavour of the Mobiles Manifesto. There’s plenty more ideas and accompanying supportive materials to come, so please check back again shortly.

Thank You for your interest.

PS – if you’ve not yet seen this brilliant recent video message from AvenueQ, then you’re in for a treat…