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.