Yesterday, Benedict Cumberbatch asked fans who had watched him play the title role in 'Hamlet' to refrain from filming future performances.
People filming and photographing performances is an issue that most performers will encounter on a daily basis, be they singers, actors, dancers or comedians. But to many audiences, the idea of there being anything 'wrong' with filming their favorite stars is a matter of great puzzlement. Just why is it wrong to film a performance?
One of the obvious reasons why waving phones and cameras in front of the stage is frowned upon is because they are a major distraction. It doesn't matter whether or not the flash and beeping noises are turned off: cameras change the whole concept of the live performance from one where the talent performs to a few, to one where the talent performs to a potentially infinite number of people.
This is an issue in itself, because anyone watching the performance via a screen has not paid for the privilege. Acting, singing, dancing: they are work, not hobbies for the performers that we pay to see. Not only is it unfair on those who have paid to allow others to view performances online for free, but it is massively unfair on the people who have worked endlessly hard throughout their lives so that they can earn money from these performances.
More importantly, performers want their audiences to fully enjoy their work. This cannot be fully achieved if viewers watch the performance through a tiny, or even big, screen.
In essence, performances are not like any other form of product. Money is not exchanged for a physical thing that someone has made, but rather for an experience of a person- a piece of that person, even. That experience is what artists spend their lives trying to manipulate into being a spectacular one. This life time of work is fully undermined when someone alters the experience being offered to them through the use of digital media.
The person on stage is talking to you, the audience member, through whatever art they have employed. The only way to truly understand what they are saying is to embrace the precise moment that they have created, not the one that you create hours later via your screen.