That thing with the cell phone

Ceci Dadisman
Oct 30, 2019 · 5 min read

Recently, the fabulous Holly Mulcahy asked if I would be willing to share my comments on the cell phone thing for a blog post she was writing.

I, in my usual long winded fashion, sent her an email which rivaled War and Peace in terms of length which, of course, could not us used in it’s entirety. She expertly edited my prose to include in her post, but I’d like to offer my full response.

Here goes…

Let me preface the following thoughts by providing a little background about myself, as it is important to have for what is to come.

I am an artist myself. My father is a musicologist, my mother an art historian and painter. I grew up going to Pittsburgh Symphony, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and Pittsburgh Opera performances basically weekly. My first path in life was training to become a professional ballet dancer eventually becoming a classical singer specializing in Early Music (specifically Bach).

One could say that I’m a purist when it comes to music, dance, and theatre. If I’m seeing Così fan tutte, I want it to be in period costume. If I’m at The Nutcracker, I want it to be the Balanchine version. If I’m listening to Bach, I want it to be on period instruments.

We tend to put the art on so high of a pedestal that it becomes untouchable and therefore unrelatable. We curate unwelcoming performance experiences at which new patrons are turned off before they ever walk into the hall. (Have you ever seen the look on the face of brand new opera patrons dressed to the nines being told they’re not allowed to bring their Champagne into the theater? I have. And it is soul crushing.)

My current role is as an arts marketer and my life’s work centers around bringing new people to the “classical” art forms meaning ballet, opera, orchestra, etc. Why? Because opera is cool. Dance is cool. Shakespeare is cool. They all have themes that are 100% relevant today — some ripped from the newspaper headlines and others straight out of reality TV (I’m lookin’ at you, opera). It is our job to make those connections.

Arts organizations do a fantastic job at creating barriers for people to engage and attend performances. The thing that gets me is that most of these barriers are things that we have complete control over and center around how we talk about what we do and the performance experience we create.

We do these things because, for some reason, we see ourselves as being the one industry that does not need to change with the times. People should somehow inherently understand not only our value but also the nuances of a soloist’s interpretation of a Mozart piano concerto. People shouldn’t expect us to offer a ticket buying process that is as easy as placing an Amazon order because we are “just” arts organizations. People should magically forget that they have a cell phone the moment they come into the hall.

I have long been a proponent of the meaningful use of technology to enhance arts events. While I was at Palm Beach Opera, we were one of the first organizations to introduce “tweet seats”. We created the first app that provided real time program notes and translations to be used during a performance. (Yes, there are a few out there now, but we did it first.) These initiatives made patrons new and old gain a deeper level of authentic engagement which leads to a better overall experience.

As an artist, I was taught that, when you are on stage, you keep going no matter what happens. We deal with so many more things the audience does that can break our concentration like coughing fits, loud and curiously long candy unwrapping, ushers’ flashlights when seating late patrons, someone loudly commenting to their seat mate about the music, etc. For something like someone making a recording to break concentration so much that a concert must be stopped is quite curious. It certainly doesn’t make for an authentic and welcoming environment, it just reflects poorly on the performer, especially to those patrons who had no idea what was going on.

No, recording a concert after an announcement has been made telling people that it is prohibited is not good. From the perspective of a performer and an arts admin, if you see someone taking photos or making recordings, you tell the stage manager the next time you are off stage and they will alert the house manager who will deal with it.

This was all a bit of a roundabout way to say that I understand the art, I understand the need to create a good performance environment for the musicians, but we need to loosen up and focus on making the art form more accessible and not creating barriers borne simply out of our own sometimes unattainable expectations.


How do we get people to comply and not making recordings during concerts? I don’t think that there is a way to do that. People have phones. People use phones. People are taking photos and making videos on their phones everywhere all the time. That is the nature of human behaviour at this moment in time.

And actually, some of the most insane things on the internet are things that people recorded on their phones:

Cecilia Bartoli doing something so insane that she garners applause after singing just one phrase.

Daniil Simkin absolutely shredding the variation from Le Corsaire.

Some seriously badass harp playing at the Met.

I’m not saying that we should make it a free-for-all and have everyone in the audience on their phones all the time. However, it will happen. It does happen. We need to stop being so gosh darn touchy about it.

I’m realizing that it probably comes down to a couple of things:

  • Cell phone footage is user-generated content (UGC). In marketing, UGC is more powerful than any marketing message anyone can put out. Why? Because it is more authentic. It isn’t faked or heavily edited — you know what you are seeing is real. (I talk a lot about how arts organizations should use more UGC.)
  • As performers, we are constantly chasing the dream of perfection. We want every show to be perfect, every note to be the absolute best it can be. But this is never the case — there is always something that we deem “not perfect” every time we go out there. God forbid someone captures us not being perfect on video. Quelle horreur!

Ceci Dadisman

Arts Marketer. Public Speaker. NonProfit Communicator.

Ceci Dadisman

Written by

Arts Marketer. Public Speaker. NonProfit Communicator. Native Pittsburgher. WVU Mountaineer. Trekkie. INTJ. Mom. CeciDadisman.com // theFORMgroup.com

Ceci Dadisman

Arts Marketer. Public Speaker. NonProfit Communicator.

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