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Friday, January 13, 2012

Tweet seats: Yay or nay?

In order to reach new audiences, theatres around the country are employing a range of social media tactics, among them "tweet seats" -- designated sections of the house reserved for patrons who want to tweet during the show. Locally, Lyric Stage is one theatre considering implementing such a section, and when our own Rick Park wrote this post for the One-Minute Play Festival blog last week (just the other day, John Greiner-Ferris weighed in as well), I began to wonder how we feel about this issue. I sent out an e-mail asking, How do you feel about the notion of designated "tweet seats" at live performances? Here's what some of us had to say:

Gregory Fletcher
Perhaps for a specific production that had something to do with social networking or asked for up-to-the-minute comments, "tweet seats" might be a fun gimmick to fill some seats.  But if I'm watching a performance, the last thing I would want (as a playwright or audience member) is someone near me distracting me with movement and the light on their phone.  Despite the fact that I sometimes tweet, there's a time and place for tweeting like everything else.  And in a dark room, sitting with a tight group of people, all focused on a world we are observing or stepping into--this is not a place for tweeting.  

Kirsten Greenidge initial thought when I heard about tweet seats was this one: a few months ago I had my first New York show up and I became hyper aware of tweeting and Facebook activity related to my play.  One hand it was wonderful to be so accessible to people who had seen and experienced my words.  One the other hand it was completely unsettling.  I was not sure if, when people posted or tweeted about my show that it would be information I wanted or needed to know.  Sometimes people would ask to "friend" me, then unleash all their thoughts about my play TO me. It wasn't that I felt my play was perfect, it was that I am also working on other plays and am very careful about my process when I do that.   I began to fear I was asking the theater community to treat me like a delicate flower of a writer until I came across a Facebook exchange where a person posted about seeing a certain show multiple times, such as "I am going to see _____"  "Am so excited to see_____"  "Am sitting in third row of _______".  At intermission she posted something that resembled this:  "Seeing ______.  I sure hope the second act is better.  This is slow and terrible".  Which is a provocative  post to your 600 Facebook friends but a somewhat devastating post to one of this person's Facebook "friends" in particular, who happened to be performing in yes, the first and second act of _______".  Her comment on the post was something that resembled "wish I had not read that. Going to be really hard to do act II in two minutes". 

I have read similar exchanges on Facebook and have less experience with Twitter, but I began to ask: what is the relationship between tweeting/posting and the artist?  What value is there in inviting tweeting in minute one of a performance when illumination, understanding, gratification might come in minute one hundred sixteen of a performance?  And what happens if understanding happens in minute two, but said poster or tweeter was too busy typing to hear it.  Thus making the tweet for minute three, "this play makes no sense, wish I was drinking instead".

We can argue whether a blue screen is distracting to other patrons (my opinion: it and typing are distracting to everyone, especially in a smaller house), but it seems completely contradictory for a theater that cares about its artists to allow instant commentary flow in a way that might compromise the work on stage.

Colleen Hughes
I like the idea of tweeting during intermission. I think for me personally, if I were to tweet during the show itself, I'd miss a lot of what was going on. I think there's better ways of attracting younger audiences besides allowing "tweet seats," such as offering new work that might appeal to a younger audience or lower ticket prices. I'm more a fan of tweeting during a show if it's a festival of shorter work, because you can fit in a quick tweet in between performances and promote each individual artist you want to support. With a single full-length work, I feel that most tweets could wait until intermission or after the show.

Dramaturg Ilana Brownstein tweeted about tweeting

Ginger Lazazus
A story, and a confession: Last year, I attended an outdoor theater production of As You Like It. More importantly, I posted on Facebook that I was going. I like to post on Facebook about the shows I'm attending, because in doing so I'm helping to promote the Boston theater scene. And also, because I get attention. I like attention.

So by the time we got settled on our blanket, I checked my iPhone and found some friends had commented on my post (woo-hoo!) Specifically, someone alerted me to some hilarious in-jokes that I should watch out for in this production. Which I eagerly did. And when I saw one, I was in such raptures I had to comment back, right at that moment. RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SHOW.

And then I felt like a HUGE JERK. I had just posted on Facebook. In the middle of a show. Had I no restraint? Was my post really so genius, so insightful, so...anything that it had to be broadcast right at that moment? (In case there's any, it was not.) I could have waited. I could have waited, and watched the show in the meantime, actually paid attention like the rest of the audience. (It was daylight, so the glow of my screen wasn't bothering anyone, but it was daylight, so anyone--including actors, some of whom were my friends--could have seen that I was looking at my sleek little device instead of at the stage.) And even daughter was with me. Probably she was too busy flashing her underwear at someone to notice (she's four), but still. That's the kind of example I was setting: this dumb digital doohickey was as deserving of my attention as this, her very first live Shakespeare performance. Go, Mom.

Social media are described as revolutionary, and yes--yes, they are. Someone else can talk about their profound impacts and benefits. I myself feel compelled to point out that the deep, dark draw of these media is the promise of--for at least the space of a post or a tweet--attention. For just a moment, it's all about me. Which is fine, really. There's nothing wrong with that! But do you deserve attention in the middle of a show? If you couldn't tweet, would you resort to throwing popcorn at the stage, or standing up and flashing your underwear at everyone? (Even if you're four, you know where that's going to get you.)

We all have our own personal response to a performance--that's great. In fact, that's the whole point of theater--to provoke us into a response. What a joy it is to laugh with my daughter when Ganymede bosses Orlando around, or see her eyes light up when Audrey comes out in her wedding dress. But to take myself out of the moment to digitally broadcast this to a whole bunch of people who aren't physically present, to mark the moment in cyberspace just because I can? That is not revolutionary. It is sad.

Robert Murphy
No matter where you are sitting in the house, it is disrespectful and distracting to the actors on stage.  This is live theatre, friends, come and sit at the grown up table.

Lack of Twitter is not keeping away the coveted and elusive "young market,"programming is.

K. Alexa Mavromatis
@bptalumni (and sometimes @PlaywrightsBPT)
I consider Twitter useful in "keeping up with the conversation"; I learn about a lot of theatre-related goings-ons/issues via Twitter, and for that purpose view it as a very good thing indeed. Events -- including plays -- are enhanced by the level of buzz social media tools can help create. It's exciting. I will, no doubt, be among the tweeters during this year's Boston Theater Marathon, for example…but only during the breaks between plays. (I think the key is recognizing events -- like the BTM -- for which tweeting may be appropriate, and finding ways to allow the buzz to surround a show…not allowing it to become the irritating hum that distracts from the show.)

That said, I can't get excited about "tweet seats" and live tweeting (which is a whole different animal) as a standard part of the theatre-going experience and this is why: I often find myself in the awkward position of having to reinforce even to most basic manners to theatre-goers around me (e.g., "Will you please stop kicking my chair?" and "Do you mind taking your conversation to the lobby?"). If cell phone use is allowed in the house at all -- even tweeting, in a designated area of the theatre -- I have little confidence that people in any area of the theatre would be able to restrain themselves from texting the babysitter, responding to e-mails, playing Words With Friends, etc. I simply do not believe most people have the manners to handle it.

Sarah Newhouse
I do not tweet. I have no desire. Nor do I have any desire to perform for a group of people while they're tweeting. Theater is an intimate, unique experience that is reflected upon individually as it's happening. It becomes something else when the audience is engaged in a different activity. Not theater. I am a firm advocate of all things in their proper time & place. And I fear for the future of communication if we can't even have a conversation with another human being without constantly checking our phones, our email, updating our statuses, tweeting, or recording life as it happens. I may be old-fashioned, but why go to the theater if you aren't interested in hearing the story, reveling in the nuances, entering into the realm alongside your fellow audience members, and breathing the air in the room together?

Michael Duncan Smith
I guess I'm somewhat conflicted on the matter.

Firstly, I ABSOLUTELY see the benefit to live-tweeting events and social media in general when it comes to theatre.  It's a lot of fun and it allows the audience to engage in a different way than ever before.

But…I also don't want to alienate patrons who are used to a more traditional evening of theatre as a certain glow emanates from a group of seats specifically designated.

I'm always up to try something new and as long as other patrons are aware ahead of time that a certain night will be whip-out-you-phone night at the theatre I'd love to see how it is received.

Werner Trieschmann
Theatre as a church-quiet place where we all respect the work on stage and focus full-bore on the actors is a relatively new development in the history of theatre. Actors in Shakespeare's age would laugh like crazy at the idea of somebody typing being a distraction. While chasing the latest fad is almost never a good idea, I can't see the harm in selling a couple of tweet seats in the back. Pretty soon we're all going to have computers wired right into our heads. Then we'll all have to really deal with this issue.

What do you think? Feel free to add a comment below.

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