Who Should Confront a Disruptive Audience Member?

Emily Low from Repertory East Playhouse's production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

Actor John Lacy was allegedly fired from The Rep's "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" after confrontation with an audience member.

Whose job is it to confront a disruptive audience member when theater management won’t take action?

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Should an actor break character?

That’s what happened during a Saturday night performance of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at Repertory East Playhouse in Santa Clarita, California. According to LA Weekly, a drunk audience member started cat-calling and whistling at the actress playing Maggie. Tim Sullivan, also in the audience, told the Weekly that the experience was comparable to being in a strip club.

The inebriated audience member continued with a stream of antigay slurs that witnesses allege continued through nearly half the show. Eventually John Lacy, the actor playing Big Daddy, jumped off the stage and physically confronted the drunk heckler.

The Santa Clarita Valley Signal reports that after the actor broke character during the confrontation, Sullivan grabbed the drunk man and removed him from the building. By the time police arrived at the theater, the heckler was gone.

Anton Troy, an actor playing Brick, says that Lacy was fired from the show. Other cast members, including Troy, quit the show in protest. Now The Rep has announced that the production is canceled.

In a press release, the theater acknowledged that an incident took place:

During that evening’s performance, an unruly patron allegedly made discriminatory comments that distracted audience members and a confrontation occurred between a member of the cast and the disturbing party. The management of the REP regrets that this situation was not brought to their attention sooner and would like to assure future audiences that disruptive behavior, including disparaging remarks from the audience, incidents of bullying or hate speech, and racial, discriminatory or homophobic utterances, will not be tolerated and offending parties will be asked to leave the theatre.

At least one of the cast members doesn’t support Lacy’s actions. Emily Low, who played Maggie, wondered what might’ve happened if the heckler had a weapon. She told The Wrap that while she doesn’t believe Lacy should’ve been fired, she disagreed with the actions he took:

I was just trying to say that sometimes people are — sometimes you’re gonna have those people in the crowd who don’t understand that this is a high piece of art, or people who come into the show and don’t even realize that it’s a story about a person who’s struggling with being gay.

Emily Low from Repertory East Playhouse's production of "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
Emily Low

Unfortunately, it looks as though neither the producers nor the house manager were able or willing to act against the drunk heckler, so the responsibility fell upon cast members and the audience. Talk about being unsafe. Based on reports, the man’s behavior was getting progressively worse throughout the performance.

This was not a reaction to high art; rather, it was a selfish man too drunk to care about anyone other than himself.

After the heckler was ejected, the show continued — and the cast received a standing ovation.