February 6, 2013
by Natalie V. Hall
Natalie V. Hall. Photo by Jay Adeff
The common arguments against tweeting during performances are usually that it takes the patron out of the “present” and therefore diminishes the impact of the show and that it is disrespectful to the artists. Both of these arguments are valid, but more often than not the battle cries against integrating social media with performance seem to reek of fear: administrators shouting “TRADITION!” with index finger to the sky, beards shaking.
Audiences are sharing thoughts and images because they are excited about what they are experiencing and want everyone to know about it. Isn’t that exactly what we want to happen? Designating “tweet seats” has been controversial, but there are other alternatives. Why not promote intermission review contests with show-specific hashtags? Hold pre-show lectures or post-show discussions with live tweet-in questions? Institute a “first five minutes” rule, as you would with the press? If we can provide structured outlets for discussion and interaction while audiences are in our buildings and engaged, we can tap into something very powerful.
We also need to consider context. Standing in the back of the theater, I would be more concerned to see someone noodling around on a phone during a production of Hamlet than say, a Crosby Stills & Nash concert. This is not because Shakespeare Is A Sacred Experience (although it can be), it’s more because Shakespeare moves quickly and requires a certain level of attention that is too easily disrupted by tweeting “Person next to me thinks Pompey is the volcano, LOL”*. Or not. If you have an audience of students live-tweeting the assassination of Caesar, what might you discover?
When audiences come to us, particularly patrons who are young or new to more formalized arts participation, they are vulnerable. The experiences they have in our facilities can set the tone for future arts participation. By maintaining an air of outraged condescension regarding antiquated theater etiquette, we do not help our own cause. Refusal to adapt is not a brilliant strategy in the war to build audiences and ensure the future of the live performing arts. On an organizational level we should seek creative ways to harness and channel patron impulses, not squash them with tired pre-show announcements and angry ushers. Take a real look at your “audience guidelines” and try something new. Who knows? It might even be fun.
*Which I may or may not have done.
Natalie V. Hall is an arts administrator, educator, and advocate. She currently serves as the Marketing and Outreach Manager for a presenting facility in Carmel, California. Follow her @natalievhall and read her arts blog at www.natalievanessahall.com.