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February 13, 2003

NYC Council Overrides Mayor's Veto, Approves Cell Phone Ban in New York Theatres, Concert Halls and Museums

Ban Takes Effect in 60 Days

"We Hope the Theatres Will Aggressively Enforce the Law" says Equity's Eisenberg

By a vote of 38 to 5, the New York City Council overrode Mayor Michael Bloomberg's veto of the proposed ban on the use of cell phones at public performances. Beginning April 13, 2003 it will be illegal to use a cell phone - or even allow one to ring - during performances at indoor theaters, libraries, museums, galleries, movie theaters, but not sports arenas. There are exceptions for emergencies, and the bill requires venue owners to post a notice about the ban in a conspicuous spot. Violators face a $50 fine.

Actors' Equity Executive Director Alan Eisenberg said that "Every actor I have spoken with is totally in favor of the cell-phone ban. We hope the theatres will aggressively enforce the law."

Last September, Equity Eastern Regional Director Carol Waaser testified in favor of the ban before the City Council's Consumer Affairs Committee, along with representatives from the entertainment industry, including Barbara Janowitz (League of American Theatres and Producers), Robert Sunshine (National Association of Theatre Owners) and George Elmer, a Broadway house manager.

It's no surprise that the overwhelming majority of actors are in favor of the ban. Steve Brady, a member of Actors' Equity, was unequivocal: "Thank God they overrode the Mayor!" he said. "They never seem to ring during the loud booming moments - they always go off during the quiet tender moments." Other Equity members concurred: said Dan B. Black: "I was doing AIN'T MISBEHAVING and right in the middle of the show a cell phone went off - as a professional you get over it after a split second, but it's just as annoying as flash photography. The actors wanted to get the stage manager to confiscate the phone." Karen Sweeney commented: "When you're doing Shakespeare, a cell phone really takes you out of the moment - out of the sixteenth century." Lisa Ferraro saw a performer handle a cell phone nuisance in a most effective way: "I was at a cabaret show and an audience member was talking on the phone. The performer took the phone and told the person on the other end that his friend was at a cabaret performance right now and couldn't talk."

There are some doubts about the enforceability of the law, but in an interview in Back Stage, City Councilman Phil Reed noted: "it's empowering to be able to say, 'You're violating the law, it's against the law to talk on the phone, turn it off.' And if you have somebody who's going to continue to talk and talk and talk, the management can insist they stop. They can say, 'I'm going to get a police officer.'"

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