If you've been to the theatre recently, you may have noticed ushers admonishing patrons against taking pictures, even before the show begins. In this Article from Playbill.com, several explanations are offered.
Mostly, it seems, concerns about designers' intellectual property are behind the rules, but there may also be safety concerns. The experience of attending theatre begins the moment you walk into the auditorium. Producers, directors and designers take great pains to create a setting in which the audience is drawn in to the story that will soon unfold on stage. Many shows these days use a custom-designed Act curtain, that is hand-painted, from designs created by the scenic designer. The lighting of a pre-show ‘preset' also represent the creative efforts of the lighting designer. Safety concerns around photography center mostly on the use of flash. Which can distract, or even temporarily blind the performers and crew. Even before the show has technically begun, it's likely that cast and crew are taking their positions (sometimes at heights above the seating area), and these distractions can be hazardous. Finally, flashes can blind, distract or simply annoy other theatregoers.
But one important consideration omitted from the Playbill article may simply be a preference to give patrons a less technologically laden theatregoing experience.
Going to the theatre is an experience to be savored, and experienced personally, not from behind the lens of a camera, or through the viewing screen of a smartphone. Theatre tickets are expensive, luxury items. (though many of us believe it should be more accessible). It is no more appropriate to take video or photos in a theatre than in a fine restaurant.
So, if you're going to the theatre, just leave your camera at home. Capture memories in your MIND. If you really must have a souvenir, purchase one in the lobby.
As a lawyer, I've often been asked by producers, theatre operators and even patrons just what actions can be taken against patrons who take photos in violation of these rules.
The answer, in most instances, is that the patron be asked to leave the premises and destroy the images in question. Once a patron has been asked to leave, if he or she remains against the will of the theatre, he or she is trespassing, and can be arrested if the police are contacted. Destruction of the images, however, is a more troubling issue. An usher who ‘confiscates' a patron's camera or smartphone may actually be comitting a more serious crime: Robbery, and perhaps Assault charges could actually be brought against the persons involved, and the supervisors who directed such action.
If you're a producer, theatre operator or designer who has questions about these issues, please feel free to give us a call at (310) 443-4185 to discuss your options.