Live! On Stage! (Or, why don’t you stop recording and just watch the show?)

Ahh, the smartphone.  It allows us to be in touch with everyone all the time.  An extravert’s dream, I’m sure (as an introvert, I have a complicated relationship with social media).  On our smartphone we have access to email, chat, games, camera, and video recording capabilities at our fingertips.  Such a gadget is invaluable for capturing those moments we want to remember for years to come… but sometimes, using that capability is, in my opinion, inappropriate and distracting. (And don’t even get me started on audience members who forget to turn off their ringers or silence their phones. It’s rude, inappropriate, and tacky.  If you are on call or need to be accessible at all times, switch your phone to vibrate, and keep it near you so you can feel it.)

I’ve noticed throughout my years of performing how pervasive and ubiquitous the cell phone camera has become at live events.  And as an audience member, it is so frustrating to see the sea of tiny glowing screens pop up before me as an artist takes the stage.  As a performer, it’s doubly frustrating, because I know that no matter what happens, someone will have record of my performance without my permission.

As both a performer and an audience member, I wonder, “Why can’t you just enjoy live art? In the moment? Right here… right now?”

You won’t be able to capture that feeling you get when you watch a dancer or musician live, in front of you. You just can’t.  And that’s the point.  It’s fleeting, ephemeral, and yet a strong performance will live on forever in our memories.  Live art is so extraordinary because a camera can’t capture the magic of that moment.  Why would you want to record a performance for later when that performances is happening right in front of you, in person?  The magic is temporal, impermanent.  This is why we buy a ticket to attend a live performance.

Additionally, when you use your phone to record someone’s performance, you’re not actually watching her.  You’re thinking about yourself.  You’re thinking about how you’re recording that few minutes of movement for your own creation, to watch later, so that you can learn from it or use it for your own art. It’s selfish. In front of you is someone on stage, giving their heart and their body to you, the audience, and you’re there with your camera taking it all for your own devices.  And when you’re focusing on keeping a dancer in the frame of your iPhone’s screen, you’re distracting yourself from the immersive experience of being an audience member.

Another aspect of this issue is that most of the time, this recording is not consensual. I’ve performed at shows in which I have not given explicit permission to the audience to record my performance, and yet there are the inevitable cameras popping up like weeds over people’s heads.  Unless the MC has said, “The artist has given the audience permission to record her performance,” then the recording of that performance is a violation of her artistic space.  Some artists are not so particular about having their shows filmed by non-official videographers, but I can tell you first hand that there are some whom it absolutely infuriates…. and they feel as though there is so little they can do about it.  It’s a shame.

If you want to watch a performer on screen, buy a DVD or watch the performances that the artist has put up on their own YouTube channel for viewing.

When you’re at a performance, put away your phone and be present in that space and in those precious moments that will never happen again.  What you can take home with you is that feeling of connecting with a performance.  A camera, no matter how sophisticated or high-definition, will never be able to capture the essence of live art.  Accept that fact, turn off your electronic devices, and enjoy the show.

 

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Thank goodness for this! I can’t possibly agree with it more. I’m guilty of being a recordaholic, but over the last 2 years I’ve found myself thinking back on shows and not remembering the artists or the art that I’ve paid to see, all because the stupid zoom on the camera was my focus. It was so troubling to me when I realized I was missing everything that I stopped bringing my camera all together (unless I was specifically responsible for capturing the video).

 

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“Unless the MC has said, “The artist has given the audience permission to record her performance,” then the recording of that performance is a violation of her artistic space.” Attorney-dancer here. It’s also a violation of copyright laws. Choreography is protected by copyright and you may not make a recording of the performance without a license from the performer. Ditto for the music that you will also, by necessity, be recording.

 

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    Amy – I’m asking out of my own curiosity. Does that legal stipulation apply if A) the dancer is improvising or B) the choreography is not filed with the US Copyright office? (Things I’ve always wondered but forgot to ask!)

    And yes, the music issue is a whole other can of worms. I’ve had to tell sponsors that they can’t sell performance DVDs of the show because they had not licensed the music.

     

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I couldn’t agree more! It’s so sad when half the audience only experience the performance through a tiny screen, and frustrating as a performer have poor-quality video clips circulating that you have no control over…

 

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Yes! I hate to see the “glow in the dark” phone screens instead of a complete darkened and sacred theater space. :( This really takes away from the performance not just for the people filming, but for the rest of the audience as well. So not fair. :(

 

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I agree!!! I had a teacher who said that dance looses two thirds of it’s energy and power when you watch it on video. Maybe it’s because the soul of the artist is not present…

 

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[…] wrote a great interesting post, titled: Live! On Stage! (Or, why don’t you stop recording and just watch the show?) It is about how so many people in the crowd are busy in recording the show instead of enjoying it. […]

 

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Well-said! We can only hope that more event organizers will start to announce that recording is forbidden during the show. It gets especially frustrating when you’re sitting behind someone who’s decided to record the show with their tablet (up to and including full-sized iPads). Not only is it a distraction, but it blocks most of the stage.

 

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Watching something on video is not the same as watching it live. I couldn’t agree with you more. When you are busy recording you are not getting the full experience.

 

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I completely get annoyed when I’m belly dancing and there’s always someone texting… Like, hello!!!! \{-.-}/ so disrespectful.

 

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I really hate it when some people in the audience ignore the show… is like “hello, stop being disrespectful”

 

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People have been known to walk into traffic entranced by their “smart” phone. I don’t call myself a photographer. But I have a camera and I am skilled in shooting human motion such as dance and athletics. There is most definitely a sacrifice that is made when I photograph a dance performance. I lose a certain experience of the phenomenon of the dance, yet at the same time my concentration is intensely on the dancer and the rhythms of the motion. Stop motion photography was advanced as an art when Edward Muybridge devised a system to record a galloping horse – the camera could see want the human eye could not that all for hoofs of the thoroughbred were off the ground at one time. Another example of stop motion photography is also from the world of sport – a walk off home run, an outfielder climbing the fence to make an out, a once in a life time performance of an Olympian. There are elements of performance, beautiful and fascinating elements of the dancers art which are documented by the camera which are not visible to the naked eye. Courts have ruled that their is the right to photograph a public event unless otherwise posted. Still you see many people continuing to record a dancer even when there is signage and security requests them to stop. That is a strange phenomenon and disrespects the performing artist. If a dancer wants me to refrain from shooting, I holster up. The dancer has a right to control her own image. We live in a strange age of technology. The flip side of the coin is that we live in an age where the government will record citizens in their daily lives under the premise of national security, yet if you are to photograph a nuclear power plant that is consider a suspicious activity, potentially an act of terror. The art of photography has been criminalized. I have been to venues where administrators behave like thugs, I am always grateful for a venue where artist recognize merit of photography. Still foremost is respect for the dancer, as the camera is a powerful tool, and can understandably be a significant distraction for a performer.

 

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