How do you deter Chinese audiences from using their phones in a large auditorium? You shame them… with a laser pointer.
As reported by the New York Times, ushers at China’s National Center use laser pointers to gently dissuade audience members from using their phones during performances.
“It’s usually only a small fraction of the audience that we have to deal with,” said Wang Chen, an employee of the Shanghai Grand Theater. “They can’t help themselves. So we try to give them a gentle reminder, so they know what they’re doing.”
Major Chinese performance theaters such as the National Center, the Shanghai Grand Theater, and the Shanghai Oriental Art Center have taken further steps to make sure their performances are phone-free. Some big name venues have gone so far as to employ phone-jamming technology so that audience members are unable to receive phone calls or texts, a controversial policy that is illegal in countries like the United States.
However, breaking the rules may not be such a big deal in China, especially when there aren’t any. Although the performing arts centers have issued guidelines to its employees on the use of laser pointers, the devices are largely unregulated in China compared to the rigid laws of the USA.
The use of laser pointers can be so distracting to performers that some would rather let audience members use their phones. Last month, the Royal Shakespeare Company asked performance halls to refrain from using laser pointers during its China tour, preferring to brave the slings and arrows that a phone disturbance can bring.
Not all theaters are discouraging audiences from using their phones. In fact, some movie theaters are openly encouraging it. Called “bullet screen“, movie audiences can use their phones to send text messages that appear onscreen for the whole audience to see. Whether bullet screen will find its way into live theater however remains to be seen.