Snape Maltings Concert Hall
(Hikitsurisan, public domain image)
In May 2017, ten minutes or so before a choral concert at the world-famous Snape Maltings Concert Hall in Suffolk, I witnessed a man in the audience being torn off a strip by a member of the theatre staff.
The concert was far from beginning, and not even was there anyone on stage. He had been talking to his friends about the attractive wooden ceiling, shaped to fit the original use of the building in bygone times as a malt factory, and he took a photo of it. It was only an iPhone he used, so the quality wouldn't be up to much. Then a suited member of staff came halfway along the row of seats, disturbing other audience members, and chastised him. "We don't allow photos."
The unfortunate man explained, in a pleasant and friendly manner, I thought, that he wouldn't be taking photos during the concert and that he only wanted to appreciate the concert hall's ceiling. "The ceiling is copyright," he was told. "And I will ask you to delete the photo." It wasn't a request.
There were a few uneasy seconds as they stared at each other. The man's wife, tight-lipped, said, "Right," and, after the "security operative" walked away, she whispered to him not to delete it.
I sincerely hope that this clumsy and ill-judged approach didn't spoil the man's enjoyment of the recital, nor that of his friends.
It would certainly have spoilt mine.
Later that evening, photos and videos taken by other audience members began to appear on Facebook, and of the concert itself. Good on them! The man I saw was just the unlucky one. Here you have family members and friends who want memories to cherish, and this is understandable.
Okay, so it can be annoying when you're at a gig and there's someone holding up a camera or phone, with its bright LED screen causing distraction. But these days most people – notice that I said most, not all – are aware of this, and they exercise subtlety.
But what if that man and his family and friends at Snape have decided to never again bless that concert hall with their presence? I wouldn't blame them. Why? Because it was so unnecessary. The ceiling is copyright? What a load of nonsense – it's in a place where the public have been invited, and that's a paying public, by the way, and the seating prices aren't exactly cheap; there aren't even concessions for senior citizens, nor are they exactly comfortable and many of the regulars had taken cushions with them. Whoops, I'm off the point here…
I've already mentioned that photos and clips appear on social media, which leads me on to an unfortunate aspect of this senseless and archaic attitude that is bordering on the financially inept: reducing visibility on social media amounts to a slow suicide.
Younger audiences are the ones to think about; they are the future, and they have been bred with technology coming out of their ear holes. They take photos and share them. And sharing these images and videos is free marketing for both the performers and the venue – it is promotion that industry professionals couldn't even afford to finance by usual means.
As an example, I can name one international singer/songwriter who isn't paranoid and allows the taking of photos and videos at his concerts so they can be posted on Facebook and also his own website – and he thanks them for doing this! He doesn't wail about it being copyrighted material because, quite simply, these fans aren't making bootleg copies of his recordings; they are simply sharing their enjoyment of his live concerts and encouraging others to attend.
See what I mean? This kind of exposure is priceless, but if theatre staff start jumping on audience members and tearing strips off them (as I've witnessed), in the end the losers will be the artistes and the venues.
Of course, the final choice as to whether photos are allowed is down to the artiste concerned. Ken Dodd, so I'm told, doesn't allow any of it, but then, in his very late-80s, he may not be aware – nor care too much about – the long-term benefits.
However, the oldest choral society in the world, Halifax Choral Society, does allow photos, and they indicate this when booking with the theatre concerned. But on numerous occasions, like at Snape, I have been embarrassed when seeing audience members being tackled, in some cases rather heavily-handedly, by torch-wielding usherettes at the Halifax Victoria Theatre.
Apparently, the staff assumed that photos were disallowed for everyone, by default. Not checking the booking details demonstrates a lazy attitude. Needless to say, it is unlikely I shall ever attend the Victoria Theatre again because I find the whiff of fascism quite sickening.
So the Halifax Victoria is another venue guilty of not recognising the growing trend for photos and their value in perpetuating a business. The council-run theatre has been in financial difficulty for some years; I'll say no more.
The solution is quite simple: theatre managements should actually read what the performers have specified regarding photos, and maybe announce that, should they be allowed, to please not use flash, no camera clicking sounds, and not inconvenience other audience members. Simple. Reasonable.
Then everyone can enjoy the show. The performers will have lasting images of their performances, the photographers will have lasting mementoes, and an understanding and modern-thinking venue will have repeat custom.