Previously on Thomasina…
“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.”
Assuming it could be done with courtesy, why would you set out to tweet a performance in real time?
As a form of personal note-taking? – Pen and paper is actually much quicker and less disruptive to all, including the note-taker.
As a way of sharing an experience and discussing it with others? – Sure, but then why not at interval or afterwards, which is when we normally gather our ideas and share them with others.
As a form of citizen reportage? – Well… there just might be something in that.
The other day, @DarrynKing (real name, Darryn King; profession, entertainment journalist) live-tweeted the Sydney production of West Side Story (hashtag #wss). If you go look at these tweets – which is easier said than done since it was on 15 July and twitter is the most ephemeral of media – you don’t get the sense of them coming from an average Joe in the audience. At one point Darryn was talking of wearing all black and lurking in the wings, or even tweeting from the pit. (Sometimes these things boil down to where you can get decent reception.)
He was very well-prepared. And over the two-and-a-half hours the #wss feed included backstage insights, commentary on the performance, slang definitions, pop quizzes drawn from the lyrics, wry plot summaries, musical observations, witty expressions of enthusiasm, meta moments (“If Tony had Twitter he’d be like ‘Maria Maria Maria Maria Maria Maria Maria Maria Maria Maria’”) and even some good advice (“Don’t do it, Maria. Let this endless cycle of violence and great dance numbers come to an end”).
For someone to live-tweet a show and come up with something worth following, a few things are needed: access (not everyone gets to sit in on the general rehearsal, or find a corner in an orchestra pit, or watch the performers warm up before the show); some fairly thorough knowledge and preparation; and skill in rapidly formulating an entertaining commentary that will make sense to someone who isn’t there.
You could be describing the requirements of a traditional arts critic. Or a radio sports commentator.
And what does anyone get out of it? Right now it’s novel, so there’s a public relations benefit. When (if?) live-tweeting becomes commonplace – in the way that arts criticism or cricket on the radio is commonplace – then it will simply become another way of sharing a performance beyond the doors of the auditorium and giving a taste of the event in real time to those who can’t or won’t be there. Time will tell whether twitter is a good medium for this, and whether the effort will be worth it.
What does the live-twitterer get out of it? Potentially a great deal: knowledge, awareness, access, insight, and all the benefits that come from choosing to focus on a performance with the specific purpose of communicating its details and flavour to others.
But the exercise also represents a lot of work – it’s far more than a few idle tweets from a good night out. As I said, you could be describing the experience of a critic, or the broadcast presenter, or the operator of the camera for a webstream, or the surtitle operator. The live-twitterer will, by necessity, be deeply involved in what’s going on, but they won’t necessarily be sharing in the experience the creators intend for the audience.
They’re not free to simply put down their mobile device, forget about reporting, and weep or laugh or listen in awe. They’re playing a role.
Darryn has posted his own reactions to the experience, which I chose not to read before writing my own post. This was interesting: “That’s the thing. The live tweet itself turned into performance, and arguably my performance, for much of it, was more important than the performance taking place onstage. Heck, I could have written much of what I did listening to the cast recording at home (somewhat more comfortably). But that wouldn’t have been nearly as fun, would it? If it worked, it was the idea, of the illusion, of shared experience that made it work.”