Cellphone interruptions are the bane of almost every performer. But now, more cultural institutions and theatrical producers in New York City are embracing a way to curb the use of the devices during shows.
Namely, they are making audience members squirrel them away for the entire performance.
Yondr, a company behind a lockable case that is used to store phones during shows, is gaining acceptance in more venues around town. The case (or Yondr pouch, as it is often dubbed) stays with the theatergoer throughout the performance and is locked and unlocked with the assistance of Yondr support personnel.
“Freestyle Love Supreme,” a show that combines hip-hop and improvisational comedy, has become the second Broadway production to use the Yondr system.
10-show Broadway engagement earlier this year was the first.
Lincoln Center will work with Yondr for select events during its White Light Festival, which begins Oct. 19. The Shed, the new cultural venue connected to Hudson Yards, has also tapped Yondr for recent shows featuring the Venezuelan performer and experimental composer
otherwise known as Arca.
Also in the mix: pop legend
who has put the pouch system in place for the current run of her “Madame X” tour at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Artists and producers say they are turning to Yondr for a variety of reasons.
For starters, it is very much intended to put an end to those mid-show interruptions from a ringing phone. It is also about curbing piracy by making sure audiences can’t record and share material that is meant to stay within the theater.
But some performers say there is a larger motivation: It is about getting audiences to be truly tuned in to what is happening on stage. Unless a phone is locked away, the temptation is always there to check email or post something on social media, performers say.
“These digital devices can bifurcate your attention,” said
one of the stars and creators of “Freestyle Love Supreme,” which was conceived in partnership with
of “Hamilton” fame and director
The show, currently in previews, opens Oct. 2.
Nevertheless, theatergoers have their reservations about the Yondr pouch. At a recent “Freestyle Love Supreme” performance, audience member
said, “The minute I put my phone in it, I wanted it back.”
But Mr. Deahl, a research analyst who lives in New York City, also said he “appreciated the idea of being more present in the moment” by the end of the show.
Other theatergoers point to limitations with the Yondr system. One frequently cited example: Even if the pouch containing the phone is locked, the onus is still on audience members to make sure the device is turned off or set in silent mode.
says such issues rarely occur within theaters. And he says the company, which was launched in 2014, has seen considerable growth of late.
“We’re in thousands of shows a year,” he said.
The company declined to reveal sales figures, though officials say the cost for concert and show producers to use the system is generally $2 to $3 a seat. Yondr is finding a growing market in schools as well, officials say.
Still, theater producers and others in the New York entertainment world say it is hard to imagine a time when every show will go the Yondr route.
If anything, they say cellphones have their place in the theater, at least in terms of creating buzz for a show. Think of the proverbial picture shared on social media of an audience member holding their program.
Either way, the cellphone has become “baked into” the theater and concert experience, said
a veteran rock promoter who now produces shows on and off-Broadway, including the recent run of “Bat Out of Hell—The Musical” at the New York City Center.
“There’s no stopping it,” Mr. Cohl added.
Write to Charles Passy at email@example.com
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