UPPER DARBY — Cell phones are the bane of any theater or performing arts center. The loud ringing of a cell phone — the tone of which could be more embarrassing to those who hear it than to the owner of said phone — will distract from the action of the stage or screen. There’s a reason why the audience is asked to turn their phones off before the show starts.
The Upper Darby Performing Arts Center is no different. But now its "no cell phone" policy applies to its hundreds of student participants.
Center Executive Director Harry Dietzler wanted to lessen the dependency to these devices for over 800 singers, dancers, and tech crew members who are taking part in the 44th season of Summer Stage, creating more interpersonal communication without the use of hashtags and likes in the successful creative space.
“I felt like we’re here to work on shows, to bond as a cast and have fun, and let’s take that element (cell phones) out of it for now,” said Dietzler.
The announcement drew cheers from parents at a Summer Stage meeting while students made some utterances of disapproval (they have, after all, just finished another school year where cell phone use is usually limited to before and after school and maybe lunchtime).
Dietzler said the policy covers rehearsal times and breaks. Lunchtime grants a bit of leniency as students use the time to check in with parents.
Some center staffers said they do notice a louder swell converging at the center lobby as lunchtime starts, signifying that cast and crew are talking to each other and not through their thumbs. Many were seen noshing on their lunches while balancing crafts projects, playing card games or, quite simply, talking and engaging with each other.
In a congregation of students from all over the area it may be unnerving to enter the Summer Stage program not knowing anyone, using the phone as a security blanket to pass the time. But the center groups-up so no one feels left out, part of its motto to “fill the world with love.”
“Now you have to socialize, that was the big goal of it,” said cast member Olivia Graner.
“Summer Stage as a whole did that, even before the policy,” added Etua Ebataleye. “Being a part of the cast we did that. We would always put our phone down and go talk to the kid in the corner. Having the rule hasn’t pushed more people to do it because the energy here makes us want to do that anyway.”
Garner, Ebataleye and a number of other students have been positive about the no cell phone policy as rehearsals are in full swing for its first three shows starting with “High School Musical Jr.” next week.
“It didn’t really effect me because last year I usually didn’t go on my phone during Summer Stage anyway,” said Grace McAlexander, a second-year crew member. She added that there are safety concerns for crew members so using cell phones on the production floor isn’t warranted.
According to a 2018 study by the Pew Research Center, 45 percent of surveyed teenagers admitted to being online constantly, social media being the most frequently reported platform of use. The number of persons who said social media had a positive or negative effect on them was almost split. For those who said negative, bullying and not enough in-person communication were two of the most cited reasons for why.
“It’s an awesome tool and a wonderful thing, but it’s causing a lot of problems,” Dietzler said about evolving technological communications. “You don’t just look at your phone for that one instant: now I’m on it so I have to flip through and figure out where everybody else is. You’re not talking to your friends.”
Cast member Olivia Nast said technology can be good and a helpful tool, but it’s not good to have a habit of constant dependency to your phone.
“There’s a time and place to use your phone,” she said. “If it’s all the time it’s too much and you’re ignoring the world around you.”
“We don’t have much time to use our phones,” added Ebalateye. “We pay to be here, why would we waste it on our phones?”