Broadway Star Patti LuPone Seizes Phone From Texting Audience Member, Threatens to Quit Theater

Joan Marcus
Patti LuPone and Michael Urie in 'Shows for Days'

"I am so defeated by this issue that I seriously question whether I want to work onstage anymore."

Stage actors aren't fans of texting during performances — particularly Patti LuPone.

At Wednesday night's performance of the off-Broadway play Shows for Days at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, the actress seized a cellphone from an audience member who was texting at the top of the second act, just before exiting the scene and proceeding offstage. The theatergoer's phone was returned at the end of the performance.

LuPone usually exits the scene just after shaking the hand of an audience member in the front row, but she tells The Hollywood Reporter that she improvised because that particular attendee was steadily texting throughout the first act.

"She was sitting in the light, so everyone could see her texting — I was shocked she didn't leave at intermission, because clearly, she was not enjoying herself," she says. "The interesting thing that happened was that she actually watched the play. It's ridiculous. It's so out of control now and so debilitating to actors and audiences alike. … It's not my job to police them onstage, and it's left to the actors to be the policemen. I'm put in a position I'm not hired for: Patti LuPone, cellphone bounty hunter! (Laughs.) I get a hundred bucks every time I get a cellphone!"

Coincidentally, the matinee performance that day suffered four separate cellphone rings — altogether resulting in what LuPone labeled "the worst day of my career onstage, because of the inconsideration of not the entire audience, but just a handful of people. That's the sad part: They ruin it for everybody."

When asked about practical solutions, LuPone suggested that fellow audience members hold each other more accountable, and that "theater owners, house managers and ushers be more vigilant" about the potential interruptions. Unless something changes, she's staying away from future onstage gigs.

"I'm defeated by this. It's not changing, it's only getting worse, and it's not worth it anymore. I'm heartbroken. If something isn't done, I will think twice before I get back on a stage again," she says. "And it's a much bigger picture — it's not theater etiquette, it's human etiquette. We're living in an isolated society, the phone controls our every move, and we've lost sight of our neighbor, the people surrounding us. And it's a microcosm when you're in the theater."

One could argue that it's all in character, since LuPone plays the haughty diva Irene, "gleefully poking fun at herself as a larger-than-life stage presence who never met a piece of scenery she couldn't devour," says The Hollywood Reporter's theater critic David Rooney.

However, the seasoned actress is notorious for having zero tolerance for bad audience behavior. She previously confronted a ticketholder for taking photos (with flash) during a performance of Gypsy on Broadway in 2009, and paused midsong at a Las Vegas concert to scold an audience member for visibly fiddling with a gadget.

Shows for Days — a prickly valentine to the theater written by Douglas Carter Beane and directed by Jerry Zaks — also stars Michael Urie, Jordan Dean, Dale Soules, Lance Coadie Williams and Zoe Winters.

"We work hard onstage to create a world that is being totally destroyed by a few rude, self-absorbed and inconsiderate audience members who are controlled by their phones," said LuPone in a statement following the incident, reports "They cannot put them down. When a phone goes off or when an LED screen can be seen in the dark it ruins the experience for everyone else — the majority of the audience at that performance and the actor onstage. I am so defeated by this issue that I seriously question whether I want to work onstage anymore. Now I’m putting battle gear on over my costume to marshal the audience as well as perform."