I once had the opportunity to attend Cosi Fan Tutte at the Santa Fe Opera House- a gorgeous amphitheater where you watch the setting sun just before the show gets started. I have been a lifelong patron of the arts: orchestra, ballet, drama, museums - you name it. I have been to shows in many fine theaters in the US and abroad: the Paris Opera House, Lincoln Center, Philadelphia's Kimmel Center, Braodway theaters, Atlanta's Fox Theater, etc, etc.... I know good manners and proper theater etiquette. I have been a performer and I appreciate audiences that know how to behave in such a venue.
So before this show began in Santa Fe, we were out in the "lobby" (being an outdoor theater, it was outside, so maybe you just call it a terrasse....) enjoying a drink and chatting before taking our seats. I took my camera from my purse and asked someone to take our picture. We said cheese and they snapped the photo. An usher then approached me and politely explained that cameras were not allowed in the theater. I apologized and told him I would of course keep it in my bag once I entered the house. He said that I could not do that - I had to check the camera or take it to the car. I thought he was trying to tell me the standard "no flash photography allowed during the performance for the safety of the performers" or "no recordings may be made of the copyrighted material allowed" speech they do before the curtain rises. No he was telling me that I could not carry the camera inside with me at all. Like you can't carry your gun on the airplane with you. I really thought he was kidding. He would not leave my side - he was practically insisting on escorting me to the coat check or to the car. I continued the conversation about how one time when I was at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris I witnessed a tourist taking a flash picture of the art work and I told this guy how disrespectful I thought it was of the patron not to follow the rules when it was clearly stated that flash phtography was not allowed. The man would not leave me alone.
I couldn't believe that all these other places I had been simply made a request that no one use a camera and no one did. And that somehow in Santa Fe they did not trust that anyone would follow the directions when asked to. Out in the middle of the desert, do the wild outlaws invade theaters regularly and shoot pictures during operas? I felt like I was being treated like a simple idiot who did not have any class. I felt very put down and untrustworthy. I thought this was ridiculous. I did finally find the friend I rode with - got his key - schlep out to the car and stow my highly dangerous apparatus. Then I asked to speak to the house manager. I very politely talked with her for a few minutes. She was a good customoer service rep - politely listened with empathy - apologized for the stalker usher, but still maintained the rule about no cameras.
So are they strip searching every ticketholder for food or cigarettes - who knows? They might just start jonesin' for a smoke half way through Act 1 and light up right there in Row C. Or maybe their ushers are trained to watch for gum-chewers sticking their used wads under the seat. Or some who can't wait for the après-thater nosh - he might rattle open a bag of Cheetoes during a recitative.
I think that is the stupidest thing in the world. They don't do this in New York, London, Paris (well, after 9-11 they did search more people's bags, but it wasn't cameras they were looking for), but for some reason, Santa Fe, New Mexico is attracting some kind of sickos who want to watch opera singers eyes glaze over after having a flash go off in their face or weird "opera pirates" - I bet You Tube is full of pirated recordings of Greek tragedies and Italian operas. Watch out Santa Fe! Get metal detectors and X-ray machines. What will cultured partons of the arts do next to try to sabotage your show?