Smartphones Coming Soon to a Theater Near You

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Oscar Wilde’s infamous 1889 essay, The Decay of Lying, gave us the notion that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” The art of texting and tweeting, now an inextricable part of our everyday lives, has moved beyond imitation to reality as one more taboo against the 24/7 smartphone tether consuming our world bites the dust.

A concert hall in Seattle is the harbinger of things to come, choosing to embrace texting and tweeting before and during the curtain’s rise. Tateuchi Center, Bellevue, Washington, scheduled to open in 2014, will be wired to allow patrons to post updates to Twitter and Facebook.

The 2,000-seat venue plans a laissez-faire phone policy, all in the hopes of drawing a younger audience accustomed to smartphone usage anywhere, anytime.

It may indeed be generational. Older theater-goers have hoped for stricter policies against phone usage, but newer paradigms, like Tateuchi, are proposing that a cell phone etiquette will emerge — given a place to flourish, in a non-disruptive way, without censure.[more]

According to John Haynes, the theater’s executive director, “This is the wave of the future for the people we worry about attracting. Simply forbidding it and embarrassing people is not the way to go. So we are wiring the building in anticipation of finding ways to make it work over time.”

The Tateuchi will house a 250-seat cabaret in addition to the main arena, and 12- to 14-foot antenna will be installed to improve interior cell signals, also making the Center attractive for corporate events to provide additional revenue.

Supporters are currently raising $160 million for the Center, which recently announced a joint pledge of $2 million from Bellevue neighbor Microsoft and Kemper Development Company.

“I don’t think this is something that changes overnight,” said Haynes in the Times. “We didn’t want to build the last great concert hall of the 20th century, but maybe the first one of the 21st century.”

Current methods of dealing with cellphone use in performance spaces range from polite electronic flashing signs in Carnegie Hall, to dancing, talking Muppets in movie theatres, to the outer extreme of the Alamo Drafthouse cinema chain in Texas that ejects violators, which in this case prompted an anonymous, vitriolic response:

Some ‘shocking statistics’ about cell phone usage, such as: about 2 hundred trillion messages are received every day in America alone; 42% of teens can text blindly; about $42.8 million was spent on mobile phones in America last year. The full infographic is available here.

Here’s hoping that a new etiquette develops soon, so that art and life can continue hand-in-hand, decorously and smartly…in hand.

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