This subject first came up a few months after I first learned about Twitter. Some theater in NYC was encouraging audience members to tweet during the performance and the tweets would be projected on a screen (or something like that, my memory is a bit foggy). That was three years ago give or take a few months. I paid no real attention to the subject and never really formulated an opinion on the subject. Until recently.
I’ve noticed several live-tweeting events occurring over the past several weeks. These have been during workshops or previews of some shows around LA. I’m ready to form an opinion. I should say, I’m ready to tell you the opinion I’ve formed on the subject. I hate it. I want it to stop. I want theatre companies to stop encouraging it.
For some reason this topic is controversial. I keep hearing the question asked “Are you for or against live-tweeting during performances?” I don’t get it. I don’t understand why this is even a debate. It is incredibly disrespectful to everybody involved onstage, backstage and in the audience.
The point of live theatre is to experience theatre LIVE. Every single person involved in the creation of a production works tirelessly to take an audience from moment to moment from lights up to curtain call. To intentionally take your attention away from what is going on in front of you and give that attention to Twitter instead is disrespectful to the playwright, actors, designers and directors.
To those of you in favor of live-tweeting during theatre please answer this question: What is going on while you are tweeting?
I understand that tweeting is awesome. I do it constantly, but it has no business going on during a theatre performance with some exceptions:
1) If the act of tweeting is an integral part of the experience of the production in some meta-tweet-theatre sort of way
2) If your life has been threatened and only live-tweeting will save you.
That’s about it.
As far as tweeting as a marketing tool, which is an argument I heard, or read or just made up, I think it’s interesting, but rings incredibly false. For one thing, if you stack your audience with some tweeters to help promote your show AND you have a paying audience in there at the same time, you could be negatively impacting their experience. The audience is the point of the entire endeavor, right? Their experience should come first. You can cram your tweeters into the back row or push them off to the sides all you want, but that doesn’t mitigate their presence.
For theatre producers and live-tweet enthusiasts: If you want the production tweeted as some sort of marketing/promotional event, here are some rules to follow that I just invented because I think I know the answer to everything:
1) Do it when there is no audience in attendance.
2) Do it during a dress rehearsal instead of a straight-through performance. This will give the tweeters the break between scenes while the director, actors and designers are working on things so they can tweet without missing anything.
3) Keep it to an hour or less. Nobody wants their twitter feeds filled up for two solid hours.
4) Tweet interesting, honest and relevant thoughts and observations. We can see straight through the polite praise. Your tweets will ring true if they are, well, true. Don’t tell us how wonderful and lovely the production is because we won’t believe you.
5) Producers: Give your live-tweeters carte blanche. Allow them to be as honest as they like, just as you would a critic.
6) Announce to everybody in the room that live-tweeting is going on. If it is a dress rehearsal, all of the actors and design team in the room should be aware what they say and do may be communicated to the outside world.
7) Don’t do it because you see other people doing it. Learn about Twitter first. Become part of the Twitter community. If you do, you will learn that Twitter is actually a terrible marketing tool. Your followers can see a marketing tweet a mile away and they will ignore it. Twitter is a communication tool. Yes, there is a difference.
These rules just rolled off my head as I angrily typed this screed. There could be several others. Feel free to add some to the comments or you can send them to me in a tweet. @BostonCourt is my handle. Just don’t do it during a show.