On Facebook today theatre circles imploded in an orgasmic seizure over an article from the Boston Globe's Metro section about the notion of Tweeting during live theatre.
From a very unscientific survey on Facebook, it seems most people are passionately for or against it. Some hate the idea (it detracts from the live art, after all). Some love it (a cool new way to connect with people). A few aren’t sure.
Personally I’m a passionate agnostic. I don’t know, because frankly it’s new and hasn’t really been experimented with.
What boggles my mind is that the conversation and articles always boil down to two points, and both arguments – to me – seem completely invalid. Here’s my breakdown:
THE ARGUMENT FOR:
Live tweeting offers a new way for audiences to connect with theatre, and ideally a way to connect theatre to NEW AUDIENCES. (READ: those young people who are on twitter and DON’T Come to see theatre – maybe this will lure them).
Here’s why I think that’s honky: twitter is an opt-in, interest-based experience. In other words, I select who I follow, and I typically choose based on shared interests. If I’m a theatre fan, and I’m live tweeting a show, the people who see that are people who already follow me. If they follow me, they likely have similar interests (theatre is possibly one of those similar interests, possibly not).
Take as an example:
I declare a Boston Blasphemy and state openly that I do not care about baseball. At best I’m an October Sox fan. If we’re still playing I’ll tune in. Otherwise I couldn’t care less. A friend of mine, devout believer, live-tweets a Sox-Orioles game in May. If I see that on Twitter I will not pay attention because frankly I do not care. Him tweeting an experience I’m not involved in – and don’t want to be – does not get me interested. Worst case scenario it might do the opposite!
The argument for live tweeting based on it’s marketing potential, to me, sounds a lot like someone who’s tweeting to the choir while the preacher is trying to lead the sing-along. Who will it reach? Marketing is about starting and nurturing relationships. Live tweeting has immense possibility to nurture relationships, but not start them.
THE ARGUMENT AGAINST:
Live tweeting will disrupt the audience and performers, and cheapen the experience of live performing arts. It gives the audience permission to pay attention to something other than what’s happening onstage.
Why I think that’s hooey:
In its 2500 year history, the notion of theatre as a place to sit and pay polite attention to the stage is roughly 250 years old (less than that in some traditions). So if theatre was 10 years old, sitting quietly only started in the last year.
For the MAJORITY of its history, theatre was associated with festivals, with the outdoors. Not only did people watch the show, but they ate and drank, cavorted, jeered and cheered, and gambled. Look at just about any photo of a contemporary summer music festival (Bonnaroo, I’m looking at you) and condense the crowd to about 1/100 the size, and that’s what theatre looked like for the majority of its history. Throwing tomatoes used to be common courtesy.
Shakespeare, Aristophanes, and Marlowe would cackle at the idea that we consider theatre an art form where we sit in the dark and listen politely to what’s going on onstage.
Would tweeting detract from what many people consider to be the standard contemporary theatre experience? Yes. I don’t think that’s a valid argument against live-tweeting because frankly, theatre has survived worse.
What I would be Excited About
Believe it or not based on the reactions against live-Tweeting, but there is an artery of theatre in which the audience is invited and encouraged to participate. Every night at Shear Madness, the audience votes on the killer, determining the ending of the play. Traditional English pantomime – kept alive locally by Imaginary Beasts – thrives on the cheering and jeering of the audience. My own company did a show in March where each night we solicited a line from the audience which was used during a climactic moment, to much applause.
All of these shows/tactics engage the audience in a way that “sitting quietly and un-distractedly, silently watching the play” forbids. None of them use Twitter, but all of them could.
How cool would it be to – at the climax of Shear Madness – have a brief party excursion where the audience goes to the bar, characters amidst them, discussing, and the audience has five minutes to Tweet their vote for who the murderer was, before returning to their seats to see the results play out?
How exciting would it be to see a play unfolding before your eyes where at each turn you had a say in the next actions of the hero? A live choose-your-own-adventure drama where the audience had a collective say via Twitter in how the drama proceeded?
How amazing would it be to Tweet a joke to a theatre’s account, only to hear the words repeated and laughed at onstage moments later?
There is much potential in a relationship between Theatre and Twitter. But it’s hazy and unexplored. I would hate for us to make choices that effect someone’s night out in a negative way. But I would also hate to rein in a thrilling and beautiful antique art form because we think it has no place mingling with modern technology.
Live-Tweeting might not be a good way to engage audiences. But that doesn't mean theatre should stay as it has been for the last 250 years. It's evolved before. What I wouldn't give to see it 250 years from now, to see where it goes from here! Maybe you'll be able to tweet a tomato.