Patti LuPone has won two Tony Awards and received many other acting honors, but this week she achieved a different kind of recognition, one that unfortunately doesn’t come with a statuette or shiny medallion.
The renowned theater actress hit the No. 1 trending spot on Twitter on Thursday following an act of cellphone vigilantism the night before during a performance of Douglas Carter Beane’s “Shows for Days” at Lincoln Center in New York.
During the performance at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, LuPone broke the fourth wall of acting to snatch a cellphone out the hands of a texting audience member during the play’s second act. In an interview with The Times about the incident the following day, LuPone let loose a hearty chuckle when told about her newfound Twitter popularity.
While many people on the social media site applauded her intervention on behalf of irritated theatergoers everywhere, LuPone said the subject of rude audiences is one that has caused her no small amount of professional anguish over the years.
“There’s an arrogance and defiance to these people,” she said. “I think it’s gone too far. ... Audiences are as upset as actors. It’s only between two and four people a night, but the minute it goes off or a screen turns on, your attention is shattered.”
LuPone recalled the events on Wednesday: “She was texting through the entire first act -- she was sitting at the far end [of the theater]... I couldn’t believe she came back after intermission. And when I came back, she was still texting.”
So LuPone, who plays a community theater doyenne in the comedy play, decided to resolve the situation herself. As the actress exited, instead of shaking the hand of the person in that seat, as her character normally would, LuPone took the phone out of the woman’s hands.
“I did it with such grace and panache, I surprised myself!” said LuPone. “If this acting thing doesn’t work out, I might try to pursue of career in sleight of hand.”
The phone was returned to the patron after the performance, according to a spokesman for Lincoln Center Theatre.
LuPone said that Wednesday’s incident is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to rude audiences: “The thing that most people don’t know is how many times actors go to stage managers to complain. Then the stage manager goes to the house manager who goes to an usher who then has to talk to the person. People don’t know how many times actors do that.”
The actress herself is no technological Luddite. She said she owns an iPhone but said she turns it off completely before a live performance and keeps it off even during intermission.
She believes it’s unfair that stage performers have had to play the bad guy when it comes to cellphone abuse. “I’m a hired actor -- it’s not my job. It falls on us to be the police,” she said.
LuPone stopped a Broadway performance of “Gypsy” a few years ago to chide someone in the audience who had started taking pictures. Other artists to express ire at impolite patrons in recent years include Kevin Spacey, Hugh Jackman and New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert.
Many live theaters request patrons to silence or turn off their cellphones before performances, but offenders who ignore the warning often go unpunished. LuPone’s suggestion is blunt and unambiguous: “They should just eject you with no refund.”