If You Can't Beat 'Em...


There's one in every crowd. Even on Broadway, despite the very clear instruction for audience members to turn off their cell phones before a performance begins, there's always one bad apple (or four) who was apparently so deep into his Playbill that he didn't heed the request. You know the rest of the story. Midway through Act One, a tinny rendition of "Viva La Vida" or "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," blares from the depths of a coat pocket or purse. By the time the owner finds the little noisemaker, the damage has been done. The audience is thinking about the phone and not the action on stage.

So maybe the time had come for the Great White Way to make cell phones part of the act. At Neil LaBute's Reasons to be Pretty, which has just opened at the Lyceum theater (above) on Broadway, patrons are asked to turn their cell phones on before the show. Text the word "pretty" to 42903, a voice from the rafters announces. Faster than you can say alphanumeric, the audience lights up with BlackBerries and iPhones, their owners furiously texting in anticipation of what message might lie in wait for them.

As these happy texters begin a digital dialogue about pulchritude (the theme of the show), the ushers stand in wait. And then, right before the curtain rises, they work the aisles, making sure each glowing phone has been stowed and silenced. Amazingly, the ploy works. During the performance I attended, not a single ring was heard after the lights were darkened.

Maybe the time has come for other institutions to adopt this practice. Just imagine: our synagogues, churches and symphony halls could once again be free of poor man's Coldplay and Cyndi Lauper. Now that's a Reason to be Happy as well as Pretty.

Care about manners? Sign up for the What Manners Most newsletter (coming soon) at