As the curtains go up, the phones must be powered down. That’s been the rule at most theaters around the country ever since the mobile phone became prevalent. But audience members’ digital blackout may be coming to an end.
Some theaters have begun experimenting with “tweet seats,”a section of theater seating where audience members are permitted to use their mobile phones to live-tweet a show, USA Today reports. It might be a great new way to attract younger people — a perpetual goal of theaters — but it’s also a divisive move sure to anger some patrons if it reaches the mainstream.
So far, glowing screens have crept into the darkened theater of smaller stages, such as the Norma Terris Theater in Connecticut, and the Dayton Opera in Ohio. However, just as subtitles were discounted by opera fanatics at first, tweet seats could make their way to Broadway soon.
On the no-tweet side, tweet seats could keep audience members from being fully engrossed in the show. It’s also a distraction for actors and other audience members, who can be affected by light and noise coming from the house.
Nevertheless, tweet seats may give patrons a new way to interact with the performance, and they’re getting rave reviews from the theaters who have tried them so far. Should all theaters offer tweet seats in the future?
Theater professionals weigh in:
Theater critic Peter Marks (@petermarksdrama):
As a Twitter devotee, I'm curious to see how it might work. I'm not sure whether it would enhance — or undermine — one's relationship to what's being produced on the stage. My guess is that the more concentration a production requires, the less useful it would be to have to shift focus intermittently to a smart phone. (Unless the phone had an app to tell you what you were not absorbing while tweeting!)
Arts administrator Howard Sherman (@HESherman), former executive director of the American Theatre Wing:
A few thoughts on tweeting at the theater:
1. If tweeting can be done either from locations where only tweeters sit and other audience members aren't affected, I'm OK with it overall, but boy oh boy, they'd better remember to silence their ringers. This can't add to the symphony of mid-show cell phone rings.
2. I do worry that people get so engaged in live tweeting that they miss the actual event, so while I don't oppose it, I do wonder if it undermines the experience of the event itself. But that's a matter of personal choice.
3. I think it should be encouraged at pre- and post-show talks, lecture, panels, symposia and the like, since there's often some very smart stuff said to a very small portion of the audience that deserves to be more widely aired.
4. No spoilers!
Alli Houseworth (@AlliHouseworth), freelance social media strategist and an adjunct faculty member at Columbia University‘s MFA producing and theater management program.
I think it’s a great idea if — and only if — it’s done wisely. Twitter, just like every other communications channel, is just a tool. The question is, how are you using that tool to build something bigger? Theaters and producers really need to ask themselves “Why. Why do I want tweet seats? What is the goal?” and the answer shouldn’t be “Because I want to be cool and awesome,” because if you don’t do something well, you’re really not going to be awesome at all.
In the theater, you have got to start with the art. Do tweet seats align with the art that’s on stage, or the mission of your organization? How does this particular social media strategy enhance this particular experience? Then, if it’s a “go,” you have to educate the actors and the non-tweeting audiences why you chose to have tweet seats, and make sure the tweeters know why they are there too. And I’d urge everyone, before jumping onboard, to start at square one: Do you even get cell service in your theatre?