About Me

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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
A long-time Toronto-area Actor and Singer, Jeff Madden is now focusing on Teaching acting and singing in the GTA. Jeff starred as "Frankie Valli" in both the Toronto and Australian productions of JERSEY BOYS, winning the DORA award for outstanding performance in a musical by a male actor. Jeff is busy back at school, getting his MEd at U of T's OISE.

Monday, May 27, 2013

JB Top 5's: 5 Moments That Make My Heart Ache

All we want is to be ‘believable’.

People come to the theatre for a lot of reasons. Some come to chat and talk on their cellphones. (See my LINK: http://www.jeffmadden.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/the-audience.html). But let’s assume most of them pay their hard-earned money to watch an entertaining story unfold, to understand the motivations of the characters, and possibly to be moved to feel something. The more ‘believable’ the actors are, the likelier the audience will go home happy with the transaction.

So, how do we do ‘Believable’? An actor’s job is simply to communicate a character to the audience. By manipulating their voices, bodies and minds, the actors work together within the structure of the script and the director’s vision to bring the story to life. Each actor’s goal is to allow the audience to understand what his or her particular character is feeling at all times.

This brings up one particular aspect of acting that has fascinated me for years. While communicating a character to an audience, the actor’s goal is not to make himself feel what the character is feeling; rather, the goal is to enable the audience members to understand it; should they then be moved to feel something themselves, all the better. It’s an important distinction to make.

Of course, there are many different techniques that actors can use to achieve this goal. All these techniques get honed through practice into what we call our ‘process’. For me, it is easiest to achieve the goal when I’ve personally gone through a situation similar to the character’s, and can tap into my own actual sense memories to portray it. When this is not the case, the actor must rely on other techniques to plausibly portray the moments in question. I know quite a few actors – many of whom are exceptional – who give almost entirely technical performances and still move the audience.

I’ve always been a deeply sensitive individual. Maybe a bit too sensitive for my own good in this modern world. But I see this sensitivity as a gift. It has made me the man I am today - a husband and father of two beautiful little girls, and an artist. As hard as it is being an artist these days, it always brings me joy to sing great songs, to act in great plays, and to appreciate the work of other artists. That I am able to use my sensitivity to move or inspire others is the icing on the cake.

Let’s face it – I got very lucky to win this role. I may not have grown up Italian, American, or dirt poor, but in other powerful ways, I relate very closely to Frankie’s journey. In some instances during the show I use a purely technical approach. But, as I illustrate in the examples below, when I tap into my own emotional sense memory onstage every night, I feel as though I can access the very essence of these emotions. And if I'm doing my job well, they are communicated to you in a believable way. That may very well be the defining characteristic of my “Frankie” – his heart. Bursting with joy one moment, breaking apart the next.

In my last post (LINK: http://www.jeffmadden.blogspot.com.au/2013/05/jersey-boys-top-5s-5-moments-that-make.html) I talked about the Top 5 things that make my heart soar when doing Jersey Boys, but here I want to turn the tables. I want to talk about the Top 5 things that make my heart ache, and shine some light onto my ‘process’ along the way. And in so doing, I’ll throw some love to some of the great actors I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the years in Jersey Boys.

Today's subject: The Top 5 Moments That Make My Heart Ache.

   1.      Singing “My Eyes Adored You”.
Prior to this song, you watch Frankie meet the Jersey girl of his dreams in Mary Delgado. They fall in love, get married and have a kid before you can say, “Call your mother, you’re gonna be home late.” You watch as Frankie and the band overcome their early struggles to score three Number One hits in a row. Then, the guys struggle with their new-found success and the constant touring, and you witness the toll it takes on Frankie and Mary. And finally, after returning from a successful tour, you watch as Frankie engages in a shouting match with Mary that ends their marriage.

I’ve worked with many different Mary’s in my Jersey Boys days. They say, you always remember your first – and how could I forget ‘Jenny from the Block’, the amazing Jenny Lee Stern. She was scary good. I also had the pleasure of working with two other Marys in Toronto – the lovely and talented Jennifer Copping and Cleopatra Williams, and the fantastic Elise Brennan in Sydney. On Tour here, Mary is played by Lisa Adam, the best actor in the current company by miles. And I don’t think anyone would dispute it, either. She is the only Jersey Girl in all the productions worldwide to be nominated for a best supporting actress award for Jersey Boys. And it was well-deserved. She can be funny as hell one moment, rip your head off the next, and then break your heart. What a gift it is to work with her.

Frankie and Mary had two girls together, and Mary had a daughter from a previous relationship. Frankie was on the road a lot, doing his best to provide a decent living for them all. Frankie’s future certainly looked like it would continue to be full of traveling. They were growing apart. How long would it go on?

It doesn’t take much effort or creativity for me to relate to this moment, being married with two little girls of my own at home, seemingly millions of miles away. I know too well the complexity of feelings involved in choosing to live a life on the road, doing the thing that I’m really good at and passionate about, and providing for a family that I dearly love but rarely see. My heart aches just thinking about it.

It’s interesting. When I sing this song away from the show – in a concert or cabaret setting; even in rehearsal – I usually sing it, in a word, better. More technically pure, prettier even. But in the show, it comes out more raw, rougher around the edges. A bit ‘haunted’, perhaps. At first it used to bother me that I wasn’t singing it as nicely as I could. But then, I realized – don’t fight it. Embrace it. When I sing it in the show, my heart is aching. It’s more believable.

Declan Egan (Bob Gaudio), Jeff Madden (Frankie Valli), Ant Harkin (Tommy Devito), Glaston Toft (Nick Massi)
   2.      Saying Goodbye to Tommy after the Sitdown.
Tommy Devito is Frankie’s big brother. Tommy takes teenaged Frankie under his wing, teaches him about life, about women, and about how to get off the mean streets of Bellville, NJ. For this, Frankie idolizes him. One could argue that Frankie's love for Tommy was only matched by his love for music. As Jersey Boys progresses, you witness their relationship shift– Tommy betrays Frankie a couple times, and Frankie stands up to Tommy, demanding his respect. But the love was always there. It’s a complex relationship that many people in long-term friendships can relate to. Even when Tommy puts the group’s future in jeopardy by his inability to control himself, Frankie still backs Tommy. Frankie wants the entire group to work together to pay off Tommy’s debt rather than sending him to the curb, or worse, into the arms of Norm Waxman's 'people'. Frankie’s loyality and love for Tommy blind him from the true reality of the situation. “You come up together, that’s a promise. And it’s like iron.” Frankie puts up with Tommy’s shenanigans because they are brothers. Blood. Family. And, to Frankie, “Family is everything”.

In my years of doing Jersey Boys, I’ve been blessed to work with so many amazing Tommy’s. Jeremy Kushnier and Dan Sullivan led the way in Toronto, and Glenn Quinn held the reins when I did the show in Sydney. Anthony Harkin has taken control here on Tour, and it’s incredibly fun working off of his Tommy.

I have two older brothers myself, and I love them very deeply. In fact, my life has been shaped as much by them as it has by my loving and supportive parents. I watched them grow up ahead of me, I analyzed their successes and failures, and I witnessed how their separate near-death experiences scarred my family. One brother nearly died in my arms as a result of his peanut allergy, and the other somehow came out of a 12-day-long coma after having been run over by a car while attempting to cross the street. At the time of each instance, I didn’t know if they would make it, or if I would ever have the chance to say ‘Goodbye’ and tell them how much I loved them. Those feeling still stick with me today.

Thankfully, both brothers survived and have recovered to be absolutely awesome human beings. But like in most families, our relationships have faced many bumps in the road through the years. At times, I remember being overwhelmed by my conflicting feelings, wanting the best for them, but being at odds with their decisions at the time. When it’s your blood, it hurts deep down inside.

Blood nearly spills when Frankie and Tommy fight during the Sitdown scene, when all of Frankie’s frustration, anger and hurt that was pushed down for years finally come bursting out. When someone you love lets you down in such a profound way, it hurts so much. And having to say goodbye to them - your family – well, that hurts like nothing else.

   3.      When Francine Runs Away.
Having to say Goodbye is a recurring theme for Frankie in Jersey Boys. One by one, all the people that he loves leave him, and he must soldier on alone. Mary is the first to do so. The audience catches up with her again in the middle of Act 2. You discover that the divorce has not made things better for Mary. With Frankie on the road and not around, she is left to deal with raising her children alone. When Francine has run away from home and not returned for two days, Mary calls Frankie to come over to the house to talk about what to do. But before long, Frankie and Mary find themselves in another yelling match – Mary, drink in hand, accuses him of being a horribly absent father; Frankie implores her to clean herself up. And then the phone rings. It’s Francine. It’s her cry for help. It’s a crucial moment for her, for everybody. Only, Francine wasn’t expecting the voice on the phone to be her dad’s.

The first time my younger sister ran away from home, it was for two days. She was 16 years old. It was devastating to my parents. An absolute nightmare. I was living at home and going to University at the time, too wrapped up in my own life to see the warning signs. Turns out we got lucky – she came back home, only to vanish again a few weeks later.

Thankfully, my sister is just fine now – she lives with her fiancĂ© and their bouncing baby boy a few kilometers from my parent’s house. But for 15 years, it looked like it was going to be a disaster. She lived on and off the streets, she got addicted to drugs, she hung out with the wrong crowd, and amazingly, she came out alive. Somehow we were blessed with good fortune. There is still a gulf chock full of hurt feelings there, but one that my family has managed to build a bridge over, and move on.

As a parent for almost seven years now, I’ve come to understand that there’s a spark, a beauty, a light inside each and every person, and that it can either be supported and allowed to shine, or squished down only to fade away.

In that moment onstage when Francine hangs up the phone on me, I am left standing there, as my own parents once did, facing the reality that she is gone, maybe forever. Frankie knows he may never see his daughter again, and that he’s partly to blame for this colossal failure. I remember the pain on my parent’s faces all those years ago. I remind myself of the crushing feeling of saying goodbye to my own children. I feel the heavy guilt of my own decisions weighing on my heart.

And when I turn to Stage Left to sing the first lines of “Bye Bye, Baby” and find myself staring into Francine’s eyes, it’s almost too much. Kat Hoyos’ big, beautiful brown eyes, filled with hurt and anger and tears, bear down on me. Then she runs off, and my heart is about to burst. It’s an extremely powerful moment. All Frankie can do is soldier on, and continue to bear the weight of his choices across his slender shoulders.

Lisa Adam (Mary and others), Kat Hoyos (Francine and others), Michelle Smitheram (Lorraine and others)
   4.      When Lorraine leaves Frankie.
He leads the female reporter to a spot at a bar. The man has been wounded, but his wounds have now healed over. He’s a bit gun-shy of her beauty. After all, he’s responsible for an ex-wife and three kids, he’s always on the road, but damn, he’s lonely. It’s complicated. He finds himself talking, really talking. He’s unusually forthcoming. For the first time in a long time, he’s at ease. As he’s talking about his childhood and his mother – his mother - a warmth comes over him, and he realizes… ‘Who is this woman? Why am I opening up so much? She’s beautiful, classy even. Different. Is she bringing this out of me? Am I imagining this? Could I be falling for her?’ It’s a sweet scene.

Lorraine is Frankie’s savior. She listens. She smiles openly. She picks him up after his fall, helps him to stand up and walk again. It's all going well at first. But the strain of Tommy’s behavior on the group is driving Frankie to the brink. Frankie’s temper rages after Tommy hits on Lorraine, and she is awoken. She witnesses this vulgarity, this animal leap out from inside Frankie, and realizes the truth. ‘Maybe we’re too different. Maybe the timing is wrong. Maybe we both want different things. Is it worth it?’

Lorraine confronts Frankie with the truth. She’s right - the relationship’s going nowhere, they barely see each other, and she’s taking a back seat to everything band-related. There's no future in it. She wants out. Frankie is stuck, trapped even. What can he do? He’s made his commitment to the band, to digging them out of their hole, the tour-dates are set, there’s no turning back now. Nothing he can say – not even a half-hearted offer of marriage – is going to change the reality of the situation. He has to let her go. It’s a bitter-sweet breakup – they really care for each other, but it’s all bad timing and crazy circumstances - but it aches nonetheless. We’ve all been there at some point in our lives.

So Frankie says Goodbye again. Watching her turn her back and walk up those stairs crushes me every single night. With each high-heeled step, all the shining possibilities of a new life, a better life, a healthier life, fade into another chorus of "Bye Bye, Baby". I’ve been blessed to work with some fantastic Lorraines over the years. Good friend Elodie Gillet was Lorraine in Toronto, Cinzia Lee in Sydney, and Michelle Smitheram here on the Aussie Tour. They all absolutely nailed it, and it was a pleasure trying to be ‘believable’ with each of them.

   5.      Francine’s Death.
You’ve just witnessed Frankie triumphantly sing the hits “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” and “Workin’ My Way Back To You”. To quote a famous Broadway Mama, ‘Everything’s coming up roses’. Frankie’s done it. Bob’s two new songs were hits, and they sold like wildfire. The years of touring and hard work have paid off – literally. The debt is gone. And to top it off, Frankie is feeling good. He’s even getting a weekly phone call from his runaway daughter, and it seems like things are heading in the right direction with their relationship.

And then, it’s over. In the span of a few seconds, Frankie’s world once again begins to crumble as he learns of Francine’s death. At first, there’s shock and disbelief; then anger as Frankie lashes out against the system that allows for these things to happen – the politicians, the cops, the drug dealers. It’s everyone else’s fault. And then it sinks in. Frankie’s world really crashes down when he realizes that he himself is largely to blame for her death.

It’s almost unimaginable – how any parent deals with the untimely death of a child is beyond me. I’ve experienced the death of my grandparents, some extended family members and friends, but thankfully none of my immediate family. My two older brothers survived their near-death experiences; my sister made it through the grinder of street life alive. My own two children have lived happy, healthy lives. I’ve been lucky. But as Frankie, I have to deal with it in front of everyone’s eyes, right downstage on that bench, alone. And then, sing "Fallen Angel" to the her memory, because it's all Frankie knows how to do. The anger, the sadness, the guilt and pain all have to be believable while singing the words that Frankie dearly wishes he could have said to her face. It’s major heart-ache time.

In a way, I absolutely can relate. As unbelievable as it sounds, during the run of Jersey Boys in Toronto, our original Francine, Lindsay Thomas, died of lung cancer. She was 30. I’ve written lots about Lindsay and the amazing person she was - beauty personified, inside and out. She’s been flying around heaven cheering everyone up for over three years now, and I still think about her each and every time I do this show. How can I not? I mean, my daughter in the show and the actor actually playing her both died unexpectedly. (LINK: http://www.jeffmadden.blogspot.com.au/2010/02/lindsay-thomas-revised-edition.html)

After Lindsay died, I struggled mightily with getting through the phone call, the monologue, the scene with the minister and especially "Fallen Angel". The emotions I was dealing with were so raw, so real, so confusing that it became a bit of a problem for me. Then, one day, I remembered what happened to me when singing at Lindsay's memorial service. I became overcome with emotion at one particular point, and as I turned my gaze down to collect myself, my eyes became fixed on a picture of Lindsay’s smiling face. I felt calmness come over me in that moment, almost as if Lindsay is saying – ‘it’s OK, I’ll help you through this.’ I decided to bring this memory into every show of Jersey Boys, and since then I’ve never struggled with the song again. Thanks, Linds.

The best part is, this all works dramatically for the scene, too. When the spirit of Francine sits next to Frankie and places her hand on his, she comforts her grieving father as if to say, ‘It’s Ok, I’ll help you through this.’ Whether it was Lindsay or her replacement Alyson Smyth in Toronto, Teagan Wouters in Sydney or Kat Hoyos here on tour, I can feel the good vibes passing from their hands to mine. Along with a special closeness to Lindsay that, selfishly, I am going to miss once Jersey Boys closes in about five weeks.

Lindsay Thomas

Saturday, May 18, 2013

JB Top 5's: 5 Moments That Make My Heart Soar

Incredibly, after a nearly four-year run, Jersey Boys Australia will take its final bow in about six weeks. One of the world's most successful musicals in decades has certainly been a hit Down Under, as it has around the world. And for me, this will mark the third time I will be saying "Bye Bye, Baby" to the show. Will this time be for good? Who knows.

      Facing another closing night has inspired me to look back and examine my time with this show. And because I think you might find it interesting, I've decided to share some of these thoughts with you. Specifically, my goal is to put into words exactly what it's like to be an actor playing this iconic person in this famous band in this amazing show, six nights a week. 

      This will be the first post in what I hope will be a series of retrospective musings on playing Frankie Valli in the hit show Jersey Boys.


     Today's subject: The Top 5 Moments That Make My Heart Soar.

      Although I'm coming up on my 700th performance as Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys, there are still moments in every single show that give me a thrill - you know, when you get that little shiver down your spine, or maybe that little tingle behind your ears when you smile really big? Me, my arms come alive with goosebumps.

      Every so often, a new moment will surprise me, but here are the five events that do it to me, every single show. Guaranteed.

     1. Singing "Walk Like A Man".
      As a piece of theatre, Jersey Boys is constructed extremely well. The shows opens with a bang, and then it zips along at breakneck speed, drawing you into the world of 1950s New Jersey. You meet all these interesting characters, and are captivated by the story... but you've yet to hear any of their big hits! Just when the anticipation in the crowd can't possibly get any higher - BAM! - you get hit with "Sherry", "Big Girls Don't Cry" and "Walk Like A Man", the Big Three, back to back to back. 

      Singing "Walk Like A Man" is like skiing down a Black Diamond run. It's like bungee jumping off a suspension bridge. It's like mountain-biking down a rugged hillside. You grab on tight, say a prayer, and give 'er. It's full-out fun, and it's over before you know it.

     The Big Three requires me to sing the highest notes in my show as loudly and for as long as I possibly can. And, it's frickin' hard, people! The range is pretty ridiculous, and screaming out and holding soprano F's for eight counts is not easy. Repeatedly transitioning between my chest voice and falsetto is also extremely difficult. And then there's the choreography on top of the singing... my heart pounds, the lungs ache for air, but I still need to hold that last note - a high D - for a full 12 counts. The volume increases, the notes rise, "Like A Man...!" the bass thumps "Ba-da-da-Dum!" and the audience goes crazy.

      Sure, it feels great to hear the crowd roar and applaud. But beyond that, it's an awesome feeling because when I get to the end, I know I've survived the challenge. At that point, with the crowd cheering, when the physical exertion combines with the excellence of execution, and I'm left with the after-glow of a good adrenaline rush. ... BOOM! Goosebumps.

     2. Singing "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You".
      Again, you have to give major credit to director Des McAnuff and writers Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice for constructing such an incredible show. The buildup in Act 2 to this song is exquisitely written. We see Tommy and Nick leave the group. Bob and Frankie try to figure out how to keep the band going while still making enough money to pay off the Mobsters. The we see Bob leave the group. We watch Frankie strain under the pressure of this burden. His relationships with his ex-wife, daughter, and girlfriend all fray like the end of a rope. When Frankie hits rock bottom, we then see the glimmer of hope for Frankie in Bob's dedication and friendship. Bob pushes hard to get a song that nobody believes in played on the radio. Frankie gets one last chance, to sing this song with everything on the line. And then, in a tight spotlight, a single mic rises out of the pit. Thrillingly, it all comes down to this one moment.

      I get to step into the light and sing this hauntingly beautiful song. No, not just sing. My vocal chords may form the words and pitches, but I squeeze out my heart and soul, I wring out all my hopes and dreams onto the sound. I sing it to my wife, I sing it to my kids, to the life-force; I sing it to my muse, my inspiration, my joy of music, of singing, of creating and expressing; I sing it for my two grandfathers and my parents whose musical genes have thankfully been passed down into my every cell. And when I hold the last note of the penultimate phrase, "And let me love you baby, let me love you..." and sit in that silence for just a second, it's like ecstasy... It feels like 2000 people are just holding their breath... and finally, with all my remaining strength, I offer up my best "You're just too good to be true...!" holding that last note as long and strong as I can ... when the band, my voice and finally the crowd all swell at the same time ... BOOM! Goosebumps. 

      Every single night the applause at this moment feels unbelievably amazing, and that smile that I break into is absolutely genuine. I touch my heart out of deep appreciation for having been given this gift by the audience (and the casting directors!) and wave thank you to them for sharing it with me. I'm a lucky guy. Seriously lucky.

     3. Singing "Working My Way Back To You".
      With new wind in my sails from singing "Can't Take..." and a feeling that I can conquer anything, we launch right into this song. From Day 1 of rehearsing this number all the way back in November, 2008 (!) the choreography has always felt incredible. Now, if you know me at all, you'll realize that this last statement is a complete shocker. That I should feel incredible the first time rehearsing any choreography is a huge surprise. But seriously, Sergio Trujillo, take a bow for your outstanding work. And Danny Austin, take one too, for teaching it to me. Standing there as I do, on a 45-degree angle with my legs strong and wide, heels popping and twisting, snapping along to the sick groove in the band, I feel like the Heavyweight champion of the world. (OK, more like the Lightweight champion... but you get the idea.)

     The whole song is a thrill for me. After grooving upstage, I get to come down and sing a couple lines directly to a lovely lady in the first couple rows. I get to strut my way across to downstage centre. I get to wail some crazy high notes. And then I get to prowl downstage like a freaking tiger, flanked on both sides by two talented band-mates. We're Rock Stars, man!

      The movements perfectly match how I feel, how I imagine Frankie would feel in that moment. They match the way the song sounds, they suit the lyrics, and importantly, they let me wail out the notes over top. And singing this song is not easy, either, especially after having sung 20 other songs already. Most of this song's long, high phrases need to be belted in full chest voice. On one particular two-bar phrase, I need to rise out of my chest-voice, slip into falsetto, and slam back into chest again. Then, to top it all off, I have to hit the highest belted note in my show - a B-flat. Switching between the registers and still sounding great is a huge challenge. But, I love that challenge, and rising to it here in this moment is a thrill. When I finish the song with "I Let it get away....!" and I hold that last note, right arm rising to the rafters ... BOOM! Goosebumps.

     4. Singing "Who Loves You".
      This is the final song in the show, and as such, it marks the end of an incredibly emotional journey, both for the audience and for me. It's also the end of two and a half hours of hard work. So, when you combine the two together, I'm spent. As exhausted as I may be, it's absolutely thrilling to sing this song. It's high and hard to sing, sure, but seeing each of the guys come down to join me at the mic fills me with energy. The Four Seasons family is back together for one last hit song. It's magic.

      I get more energized when the rest of the cast run onstage, take their places, and join in with their incredible voices. I remember feeling pure elation the first time I saw this moment as an audience member. And while singing this song, I can see the elation in the eyes of the people sitting in the first couple rows. The song builds to its climax, we grab our mics and come right down on the lip of the stage. The four of us share a meaningful final look and acknowledge all we've been through. We're survivors. And, like that famous song goes, we did it our way. 

      Then, finally, we sing one last crazy highnote-filled chord, we hit our final pose, the band nails their thrilling button. The lights snap to black... the crowd goes absolutely nuts... and in that moment... BOOM! Goosebumps.

     5. Running onstage for the Bows, and singing the reprise of "December '63".
      Again, the crowd goes nuts seeing the four of us run out of the wings and downstage for our bow. Even though it seems impossible, the audience is louder at this point than they've been all show. Technically at this point, the show is over, so we can loosen up a little bit. In a small way, I start to shed a tiny bit of Frankie's skin and fully enjoy the experience. The choreography is so fun to do, the song is great fun to sing, and watching the crowd sing, dance and clap along is a real treat.

      And that's when it hits me. To be involved in a show this successful is such a thrill. It is also extremely rare. Seriously. In fifteen years in the business, in 25 years of going to the theatre, I have almost never seen this type of reaction from the crowd at the end of the show. And to know that in some small way, my own hard work, dedication and talent have helped to create the magic that is the catalyst for this reaction... well, I almost can't describe how awesome that feels. And that feeling, well... you guessed it. Goosebumps.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

“The Audience”

Helen Mirren, a renowned British actor of stage and screen, has recently been in the news. But this time, it’s for her actions while performing outside of the theatre.

This past weekend in London, the great Dame was onstage, starring in the aptly titled The Audience. When the performance and her nerves were sufficiently rattled by a loud drumming troupe on the street in front of the theatre, she left the stage to confront them.

It created one heck of a story. Dressed in her period costume as Queen Elizabeth II, Mirren used a vulgarity-laced diatribe to bring an end to the drumming, and then calmly returned to the stage to finish her performance.
Audience interruptions in the theatre are nothing new, as Richard Ouzounian has recapped here in the Toronto Star. Cell phones ringing, coins being tossed onstage, and rowdy behavior seem to be part of the normal theatrical experience now.

This story has piqued my interest, but not because I’m a fan of salacious celebrity-driven viral videos. Far from it. As a stage actor for more than fifteen years, I can certainly understand Mirren’s actions. Many of my colleagues and I have contemplated doing exactly the same thing.

Sometimes the distractions in the theatre are simply too much. Not only do they affect the actors, but the entire audience is affected, focus is lost, and nobody wins. I’ve personally been performing onstage while a slow-moving Motorcycle parade has noisily gone by, when fireworks displays have exploded nearby, and when torrential storms have pounded the walls and ceiling of the theatre.

But, the show must go on, right?

I don’t know about that. If everything has gone bad, why not stop the performance for a few moments? It would give everybody a chance to reset, calm down and re-focus on the task at hand – namely, providing the audience with an entertaining and enlightening story, told to the best of our abilities.

Numerous shows have been stopped due to the sudden illness of an actor, due to a technical glitch in the production, or due to power outages and fire alarms. In such instances, a pause in the action takes place, and then things pick up where they left off, with minimal disruption.

But when it comes to bad audience behavior - how much is too much?

Broadway superstar Patty LuPone famously stopped a performance of Gypsy because an audience member was taking pictures after an announcement was made forbidding it. LuPone was famously quoted as saying “We’ve lost our public manners. Who do you think you are? Get ‘em out!”. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WruzPfJ9Rys

Hugh Jackman, a veteran of stage and screen, recently stopped a show after a ringing cell phone interrupted his performance. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7PCW5hi9Wc Of course, these events were both recorded on another audience member’s cellphone.

I can definitely see Jackman and LuPone’s point. While 99% of audience members are wonderfully polite and supportive in my experience, I’ve been onstage for dozens of cell phones ringing – sadly, it seems that this has become an almost weekly occurrence. Particularly annoying is when the phone continues to ring because the owner won’t answer it, for fear of not wanting to admit that they are the offending party. So it just rings and rings, annoying everyone more and more.

Sometimes the patron will go the extra step to answer the phone and actually begin a conversation, instead of quickly grabbing it and powering it off. This reminds me of a story an actor friend told me, where during a performance at the Royal George Theatre at Canada’s Shaw Festival, a woman loudly answered her ringing phone with this admittedly funny commentary: “Hello?... Yeah I’m still here… Not very good… Uh Huh, I’ll call you later…“ Talk about taking everyone out of the performance.

In their defense, I think audience members don’t realize just how present they actually are. I think sometimes when the lights go down, the audience forgets that they are not on their couch at home or at a movie theatre separated from the action. They’ve never been onstage to see and hear for themselves.

But, isn’t it common sense to know that Theatres are built to have great sightlines and acoustics? And it goes both ways – trust me, the actors can see and hear you as well as you can see and hear us. That is a big part of what makes going to see a play so exciting – we’re all together in one big living room, interacting back and forth. There’s energy there. It’s alive.

As frustrating as cell phones in the theatre are, a more egregious distraction is when an audience member talks back. An instance from one of my recent performances of Jersey Boys comes to mind. Near the end of Act 2, during a particularly dramatic scene where I am alone downstage talking directly to the audience, an onstage (prop) telephone rings, signaling to me that my daughter is calling. I continue finishing my monologue as I walk over to the phone. An audience member decided that this would be the ideal time to try out a little stand-up routine.

This woman interrupted my speech by shouting “Hello? Hello?!?!” a few times. I continued with my actions, trying to ignore her exclamations. Despite the audible hushing from other audience members, this woman continued her quest for attention, loudly giving a running commentary while I became ever-more distracted trying to carry on. I couldn’t hear exactly what she was saying because I was, you know, talking myself. You know, acting. (How rude of me.)

In this scene, my character and the audience find out together that my estranged daughter has died from a horrible drug-overdose. I am alone onstage, there is no one speaking to me on the phone. There are pauses, to give the reality that I’m listening to the news being relayed to me by the phoning party. It is the final chapter of the story, and I need to create the reality of this very delicate moment fully and realistically for the 2000 people watching. It’s extremely difficult.

In a poignant silence, she chimed in again. “Uh-oh… Bad news, huh?!?!” At this moment, I came as close to I’ve ever come to stopping the show. I was so angry! I decided, however, to try to press on and technically finish the beats in hopes that she will just stop the nonsense. The crowd hissed at her, and after a few more comments no doubt defending her behavior, she thankfully did stop.

But the damage was done. At the time, I felt robbed. It took all my strength of mind to continue through the next scene, sing the song Fallen Angel to the memory of my daughter, and carry on to the end of the show. I know I wasn’t giving my best performance, and it was eating at me. I felt horrible that the audience was robbed of a fully engrossing, possibly cathartic moment. Should I have stopped the show to berate her behavior?

In hindsight, I think I did the right thing. Despite how I felt in the moment, the audience still got a fantastic show, that minute or two not-withstanding. The damage, as I saw it, was relatively minor. If I had stopped the show however, it may have taken quite a while to re-compose ourselves, and the pause in the action may have taken the audience too far out of the experience.

Like it or not, these are the times we live in. Not a show goes by without me being distracted by the bluish glow of cellphone screens in a dark theatre, illuminating the torsos of the offending audience members. On opening night here in Perth, an audience member in the front row actually filmed the entire Big 3 - she just calmly took out her phone and recorded it – I know, because her ‘flash’ was shining directly in my eyes for much of the time.

I think it comes down to this: We live in a technological world. Everyone coming to the theatre can afford a smartphone, which they use to constantly stay connected. They are conditioned to take in fast-paced action. They are used to three-minute video clips being passed around the internet. They are used to celebrity-based garbage in magazines and reality TV nonsense at home. Yet, in spite of this, a large percentage of us still seem to have hung on to our public manners.

The fact that people still spend the big bucks to see live Theatre in this day and age is remarkable. There are so many entertainment options today, most of which are much cheaper than coming to the theatre. To stop a show and shun them might push them away from the theatre forever, and then where will we be?

This is just another obstacle for actors and musicians to realistically tell their story. But as hard as it is, I think the best way to deal with an offensive audience behavior is not to pull a Helen Mirren and call them out on their crap. Rather, I think we should just ignore it... like the patron who refuses to answer their ringing cellphone. Eventually the noise will stop and we can all carry on.

Have you any thoughts to share?

Check this out -http://thinkprogress.org/alyssa/2013/05/16/2020341/national-reviews-kevin-williamson-is-wrong-on-cell-phone-tossing-but-right-on-theater-regulation/?mobile=nc