There’s a bigger question behind the #tweetseats discussion: What are the benefits of bringing twitter into performance venues?
At the moment we’re playing around, experimenting, finding our feet. (By “we” I mean presenters and tweeting audiences equally.) Right now, I think perhaps too much excited emphasis is being placed on the particular medium du jour and not enough on the value of what is actually taking place…
One thing at which twitter excels is enabling the connection of like-minded nerds fans. Through twitter we can share impressions with someone who might be attending on a different night or perhaps still be deciding whether to buy a ticket. But unlike a chat with friends, a tweet reaches many more people and it also allows a tweeter to get to know more fans whom they might not otherwise have met.
So you can imagine presenters being very interested in the word-of-mouth potential of that, as well as the community-building potential. And those of us who tweet just love it.
Another thing that twitter does, although not very precisely, is provide a simple mechanism for broadcasting grabs of information to an audience of followers. The equivalent of the opera surtitle, but sent to your phone. The problem is, there’s not much control over exactly when a tweet will appear to a follower. So it would be pretty bad for actual surtitles, and not much good for music alerts of the “listen to the oboe’s entry” variety. But it’s ok for sending generic pieces of background information or pointing out things to listen/look for that are likely to hang around (“see those sheep…”).
Orchestras around the
world have been trying this sort of thing, mostly at outdoor concerts.
I’ve followed some of the program-notey feeds and found them either
prosaic or a bit twee. But there’s scope for a really imaginative use
of this strategy.
3. Open conversations
Twitter is also pretty good for opening up conversations and sharing information. Traditionally, performing arts presenters have communicated in very controlled ways: we “broadcast” information through program books, websites, marketing materials, and print and broadcast media (that is, one-to-many), and we allow people to talk to us by phone or in writing, responding in a closed dialogue (one-to-one). But active and flourishing online forums are relatively rare and don’t necessarily include presenters and performers as participants. In any case, the old-school forum environment doesn’t always seem to generate as generous a conversation as twitter does.
Presenters in the 21st century need to be bold enough to participate in many-to-many conversations, engaging the intelligence and passions of the smart people who make up the audience – and a medium like twitter allows a presenter to talk to people, respond to them, answer questions, solve problems and bask in compliments (twitter nurtures an extraordinarily positive atmosphere).
Somewhere between open conversations and spontaneous response is the use of twitter by performers and audience together as part of the creative and performance act. That’s too specific a scenario to cover here.
4. Spontaneous response
Twitter encourages spontaneity and a real-time response to the world. It’s worth remembering that twitter reached its tipping point in 2007 when a bunch of nerds South by Southwest conference attendees used it to keep in touch and to let each other know which were the good sessions and events. If that’s not real-time critiquing, then nothing is.
So it’s the most natural thing in the world to contemplate adopting that approach for a concert or an opera or ballet or in the theatre or at any other traditional performance event. Except it turns out that live-tweeting from the audience in those contexts can be difficult and unrewarding, and it compromises the experience.
In fact I’m going to come right out and say that live-tweeting (as opposed to foyer tweeting)
is not going to help you engage more fully with a
performance. It’s not going to enhance your appreciation, increase your
understanding or blow your mind.
This isn’t to say that someone who undertakes to live-tweet a performance might not have a role to play. But it is a role.