Ushers working in West End theatres have begun wearing body cameras to combat increasing levels of aggressive behaviour from audiences.
The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre have partnered with security camera company Calla to introduce body cameras for front-of-house staff as a way of de-escalating incidents.
It is thought that having visible cameras that are clearly recording situations will help staff feel more empowered, and reports from West End trials found that aggressive individuals had backed down when seeing themselves being recorded.
Calla’s cameras have a front-facing screen, showing recorded footage on the device as it happens.
As trials are still ongoing, individual theatres that have fitted their ushers with cameras have not been named. However, Calla said pilots had taken place at a number of West End venues.
SOLT head of risk and safety Phill Brown said problems with audience behaviour were on the rise, with “increasing levels of aggression towards staff”.
“When you mix alcohol with the theatre environment that can exacerbate situations and we want to try to manage that before it becomes a major problem within our industry,” he said.
Existing measures used by theatres to combat aggressive behaviour include CCTV and additional staff training, but Brown said there were weaknesses with these methods, including CCTV black spots, which then become vulnerable areas.
Brown said some front-of-house staff had refused to work on certain shows or at particular times of the week, such as Friday or Saturday nights, because of the issues they were experiencing.
He said one, three-month trial at a West End theatre had yielded “very positive” feedback from staff, particularly from its duty manager and security guards.
“We have seen in some of the reports from the pilots that people have backed down, calmed down and walked away from situations. I think just the fact that people can see themselves behaving in an unpleasant way can sometimes be enough to calm themselves down so they walk away from the situation before it turns into something more significant. So I think body cameras can make a difference,” Brown said.
He added that the additional footage could provide “clear evidence” of a situation and prevent disputes becoming one recounted version against another.
In 2017, SOLT and UK Theatre launched a campaign, SAFERtheatre, dedicated to improving health and safety standards at venues. Earlier this year, they began asking theatres across the country to report increasing aggression or incidents of poor audience behaviour to help record growing concerns in this area.
Following the pilots, SOLT and UK Theatre are encouraging other theatres to use the body cameras.
Last year, a fight between audience members broke out at a performance of Julie at the National Theatre, with an altercation over phone use between theatregoers also being reported at the Old Vic.
A row between audience members at the Royal Opera House also became public after the dispute ended up in court.