My corner of the twittersphere has been abuzz this morning. The topics fleeting by: the lamentable editorial omission of any musical representatives from the weekend’s article on twitter in the arts, the state of arts journalism generally and its apparent promotional/PR focus, and tweeting during performances.
It would take me hours to compress my thoughts on tweeting during performances into 140 characters (or even 280) and I don’t have the time. So…
First, this isn’t about the arts using twitter outside the performance time/space or using it as part of the performance – that’s another story, and at times quite an entertaining one. (#operaplot anybody?)
It’s about the matter of audience members tweeting during theatrical and concert performances.
And I’ll be honest. I actually can’t do it. Not while the performance is going on.I do tweet during interval as well as immediately before/after performances. At concerts I’m often doing that in a vaguely official capacity as @sso_notes. Very occasionally (mostly during long stage moves) I’ve tweeted between pieces.
Here’s my rationale: I only tweet at those points in the performance where it would be undistracting, and natural, to talk.
But it’s not really good manners that motivates me so much as pure selfishness. I simply don’t want to miss anything. And if what I’m doing is likely to mildly distract someone nearby, then it’s absolutely certain that I am, myself, being distracted to be the point that I will have missed a minute or two of the performance – a minute or two that can’t be reclaimed.
As everyone is finally beginning to realise, multitasking is a furphy. Even for girls. In a concert there’s usually so much to pay attention to and to hold in memory that I’m lucky if I can scribble an illegible word on my program in the darkness. Plays/operas/ballets are much the same. If someone tells me they can look at a screen, formulate and type a concise idea for public consumption and remain fully aware of what’s going on during those 50 to 120 seconds, I will happily tell them they’re deluded. Of course, if the performance is really boring…but let’s not go there.
Actually, let’s do go there. Because my ideal performance in the concert hall or theatre is one that's so compelling and engrossing, so riveting, that it doesn’t even occur to me to tweet while it’s taking place. If my mind is wandering in the direction of epigrammatic things to tweet about the performance then that’s a very bad sign for the performance.
I’ve also tried tweeting during verbal presentations (e.g. during TEDxSydney and during my orchestra’s pre-concert talks). This is slightly easier. Perhaps all those years of taking notes during university lectures taught me something, and a well-constructed verbal presentation usually incorporates sufficient repetition, exploration and summary of ideas that there are opportunities to “take notes” in one way or another.
But I think there’s another difference: when I tweet from a talk I’m mostly tweeting content, an idea I’ve just heard, a pithy quote. It’s more like transcription. If I were to attempt to tweet during a musical/theatrical performance I’d be tweeting my own response/reactions/assessments. That’s a more distracting activity which, in some ways, takes you out of the receptive mode that a performance demands of you and into a critical one. Criticism is a marvellous thing, but if you’re not really receiving because you’re trying to write and publish a critique in the moment then…?
In any case, it’s been my experience that people have far more interesting things to say about a performance when it’s had even a short while to sink in. For example, for (too) many years my ballet subscription placed me immediately in front of a trio of ladies who insisted on verbalising their reactions during the performances. “Hasn’t she got lovely arms,” was a typical comment. Or, my favourite, “He’s very manly looking, isn’t he?” They drove me to distraction and were the targets of more than a few glares in the darkness. But if you happened to eavesdrop on them between acts it was a different story: the level of the observations immediately jumped.
Anyhow, I’m going to leave this post with the wise words of youth. Just recently my nephew went to hear Karnivool in concert, and he wrote about it afterwards. Nice pictures too. Here’s the telling line:
I feel like I probably spent too much time taking photos and not enough time getting into the gig (you live and learn I guess), but regardless I still enjoyed myself a hell of a lot.
Substitute “live-tweeting” for “taking photos” and I think you’ve got it. You won’t enjoy yourself less, but there’s a good possibility that you won’t be “getting into the gig” to the extent you would’ve liked.