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Broadway Shockers 2015: Earpieces and Teleprompters on Broadway

No need to call for line…it's already being whispered in your ear.

As 2015 draws to a close, TheaterMania looks back on some of the most jaw-dropping stories of the year with the 2015 WTFs.

Al Pacino spends most of David Mamet's China Doll on the phone.
(© Jeremy Daniel)

We at TheaterMania are major proponents of the technological advances revolutionizing the stage. State-of-the-art projections, 3D printing, drones: We're all for it. One electronic innovation we're less enthusiastic about, however, is the earpiece — specifically when it is used to feed an actor his or her lines during a live performance.

While earpieces have been quietly prompting older actors for a while (Angela Lansbury was upfront about hiding one in her Princess Leia buns during the 2009 revival of Blithe Spirit), 2015 seems to be the year big-name stars have fully come out of the closet about not being able to remember their lines: Bruce Willis wears an earpiece in Misery, as do James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson in The Gin Game (but at 84 and 91 years old respectively, their mere presence onstage is impressive)). Al Pacino not only wears an earpiece disguised as a Bluetooth for his Mametian monologue, China Doll, but uses seven Teleprompters strategically placed around the set. President Obama doesn't even get this much tech support when he delivers the State of the Union.

Even after her leg was amputated, Sarah Bernhardt continued to learn all her lines without the help of an earpiece.
(© YouTube)

While we should forgive them a memory lapse here and there, we can't help feeling that this amounts to 21st-century cheating. After all, John Gielgud performed well into his eighties without any electronic help. Septuagenarian thespian Sarah Bernhardt continued to learn all her lines and perform them onstage until the year of her death — long after her right leg was amputated. One imagines she would scoff at the forgetful (but fully mobile) thespians currently walking the boards on Broadway.

At least for Pacino, none of this has done anything to harm box-office receipts: China Doll pulled in $822,000 last week, with an average paid admission of $149.93. As long as theatergoers vote with their wallets, this looks like a trend destined to continue.