Should theatres allow live-tweeting of their shows?

So, unless you have hidden under a rock or have never followed me on Twitter or read my blog, you probably know that I attend hundreds of theatre and dance shows and write reviews. I grew up with artists – my parents were a concert piano player and a soprano coloratura. My brothers play piano at the concert-level (one of my brothers has a degree in Music on top of his PhD in Mechanical Engineering). I am a former competitive dancer and theatre actor. So, I love the arts and I do my darnedest to promote the arts in perhaps the toughest destination of them all, Vancouver, where people drop $450 dollars a ticket for Canucks games yet complain about $35 tickets to dance/theatre shows. Yes, I went there. So sue me.

iPhone concert

Photo credit: Bjørn Molstad (bareform) on Flickr

People have asked me whether I think live-tweeting a theatre show is a good idea or not. Lots of people have their own opinions, and I have had good and bad experiences with Vancouver crowds, so I’m just going to narrate two or three of my stories. The first one comes from my recent experience at the Vancouver Opera for West Side Story. We (well, JT) paid for our tickets and we were assigned what I would consider pretty bad seats. Granted, I’m always spoiled because most arts companies invite me to their shows on media tickets and thus I’m assigned great seats. So, experiencing this at the Vancouver Opera was kind of a let down (but that is a whole other story). But my point here was that, my seats were in the balcony and thus I could have easily live-tweeted without bothering anyone (the lights right beside me were intense enough that they would have overpowered my iPhone).

The second story I have comes from a recent show, The Nutcracker (at the Alberta Ballet). Because I have to write my notes about the show, I often seat on isle seats so I can bend over and catch some light and scribble a few thoughts. I have photographic memory, yes, but if I am supposed to write a good, solid review that touches on the technical aspects of the show, I need to write down my notes. I am always hopeful to move down, bend over and write my notes in a way that is not disruptive. But the couple sitting behind me (in their late 60s probably) complained to me that I was moving too much. I tried to explain why I did it, in hopes they’d understand that I wasn’t purposefully trying to disrupt the show. They didn’t, so I did them a favour and moved away. This is a first in 5 years I’ve reviewed arts shows, and I had NEVER had anyone complain about me moving in my seat to take notes about a show, EVER. This experience left a really bad taste in my mouth.

So, while I recognize that Vancouver crowds are extremely heterogeneous, generally I think most people try to NOT disrupt the show. Certainly, I do my very best not to! And I recognize that live-tweeting MIGHT make the actors/performers/attendees feel like we are indeed disrupting. Some theatres are now experimenting with live-tweeting (just Google the proper search terms and you will find oodles of posts about the topic), and I always post a pre-show, intermission and post-show tweet. I don’t do this because I *HAVE* to. I do this to promote the show. I have a large audience and I do whatever I can to push theatre shows and motivate people who follow me to attend them. I *COULD* not tweet from the theatre, but I choose to do so to ensure that people who only follow me and don’t really read my blog can be aware of the caliber of the show I am witnessing.

Back to the discussion – so, should theatres allow live-tweeting of their shows? Well, I am of several minds on this one. First, if the live-tweeting is limited to in-between-scenes, sure why not. If it’s in assigned seats that don’t reflect and that the performers can’t be disrupted, of course. But if in any way it disrupts the show, then it’s an absolute no-no.

Since I’m all about the discussion, have at it on the comments section. Should we or should we not have assigned-seats for live-tweeting in arts shows? I can assure you it happens at live music concerts. I live-tweeted the Chromeo concert, and also I did the same with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD).

Related posts:

  1. Us and Them (Headlines Theatre) [last 4 shows!]
  2. Reminiscing about TV shows ABOUT Vancouver
  3. Liveblogging vs. live-tweeting in social media events
  4. Cover It Live vs Scribble Live (Round 2 Comparison)
  5. Net Tuesday Live blog/live tweeting (using ScribbleLive)

Comments (13)

LoisJanuary 23rd, 2012 at 4:15 pm

With the caveats you mentioned, why not? It is interesting to think about what the current construction of the audience/performer setup is. I appreciate a silent reverent audience, but that has not been the historical norm.

Skye DonaldJanuary 23rd, 2012 at 4:40 pm

When I attended Gateway Theatre’s production of The Sound of Music in December (thanks to winning tickets courtesy of your blog!), the first thing I did after I sat down was check to see if the theatre had Wi-Fi so that I could check in on Four Square and Twitter (there was no public Wi-Fi, so I couldn’t, as I only have an iPod). The usher had a horrified look on her face when I asked about the Wi-Fi because she thought I was going to photograph or record the show. If live-tweeting was permitted, it would make police those kinds of rules more difficult.
The church that I work at recently expanded their Wi-Fi to include the sanctuary area. Now I can live-tweet during worship. Because I’m front-and-centre, though, I have to be very discrete about it because we haven’t educated the congregation about what people are doing with their smart phones during worship (tweeting, reading scripture, checking Wikipedia for more information about something the preacher just mentioned, et cetera). Like concerts and theatre, I think that what is necessary for live-tweeting to work is some education and the development of some etiquette. I don’t see anything wrong with tweeting before the show or during intermission. During the show itself, I think that keeping live-tweeting to designated seating is probably the safest course of action for the time-being, and I think it is cool to see some theatres offering that feature (along with free Wi-Fi).
I absolutely don’t think that you should need special seating to take notes with a pen and paper… that’s just silly. I always take notes at concerts, and I do get funny looks sometimes. Then again, I also knit in public (including at concerts & theatres), and I imagine some people think that is rude, too. Some people are just grumpy and will be unhappy with the person next to them having the audacity to breathe.

RaulJanuary 23rd, 2012 at 4:45 pm

@ Lois – I think you should copy and paste the comment you made on my Google Plus page – it’s quite relevant. I would, but it would appear under my name, and I love to attribute properly.

@ Skye – thank you, so much, for putting name to what I experienced with this old couple – these people were just grumpy and were unhappy with the person next to them having the audacity to breathe. Sadly, that person was me.

TawcanJanuary 23rd, 2012 at 5:01 pm

As long as you don’t disturb people around you I don’t see why livetweet shouldn’t be allowed. The only thing that might be distracting would be the light coming from your gadget’s screens. If you do you due diligent I’m sure that could be minimized.

Perhaps once reviews and livetweet become more and more popular theatres will assign specific seats?

Ryan MooneyJanuary 23rd, 2012 at 5:01 pm

I have a few mindsets…
1. Any way to get an audience in is great.
2. I have a hard time taking people’s opinions seriously if they are buried in their phones.
3. Many shows don’t have scene changes or “opportune” moments, so I think “policing” when or where people were allowed to tweet is difficult.
4. I’d worry about actors off-stage who might be reading the tweets while the show is in progress (ideally, yes, someone is in character and not checking their phone through a performance… but the honest truth is more and more actors do check, facebook, e-mail in their downtime off stage.)

So I’m torn but open to suggestion.

Janis La CouvéeJanuary 23rd, 2012 at 9:09 pm

While I’m happy to live tweet cabaret-style shows or music events with sets, I’m more cautious about live tweeting theatre in its current configuration.

Like you I tweet pre-show, during intermission and post show.

Personally I’d be too distracted by my own tweeting to focus on the action on stage and I’d miss much of the enjoyment I get from the experience. Not to mention the possibility of distracting both other audience members, and the cast (those screens cast quite a glow and can be seen from onstage).

If tweets become part of what’s happening onstage – as in suggestions from the audience for an improv piece, or a tweet wall of applause for a dance number (as examples) – I’m all for it – a collaboration between audience and performers.

OR if tweeters are segregated from other audience members:

* as some cinemas do for parents of nursing children and infants in separate shows

* in the balcony or a section reserved only for mobile users

Times are changing. Anything that will encourage more participation in the arts is to be considered (carefully).

Disclaimer/clarification – my son is a performer, I volunteer for a number of theatre companies, I blog about the arts, I attend over 50 shows a year – from student productions, to indy, to Fringe to mainstream.

RaulJanuary 23rd, 2012 at 9:22 pm

@ Tawcan, @ Ryan and @ Janis Thanks for your comments

As I said, I write about the arts quite substantially and have a background and training in the performing arts , so I actually take exception to the notion that by tweeting, I would be paying less attention to the play, and thus my review would be less valuable/relevant. Nothing further from the truth. That’s where the training is important.

As Candis Callison (a fellow faculty member at UBC, though she works in the Journalism school) said – livetweeting has replaced traditional note-taking. If I were to live-tweet, I’d mention my own mental notes. Not an assessment of the show, just my notes on the performance.

Also, I have gotten to the point where I have perhaps (on occasion, not always) missed much of the enjoyment already precisely because I am focused on reviewing the show. I noticed this in a couple of shows where I knew I didn’t have to review them and I enjoyed myself more. But those shows, I’ve paid for my admission to them.

Overall, I think it’s important to open the discussion. I should also note that I would not be willing to live-tweet a show on a regular basis. In fact, I also may not like those seats overall!

Carousel Theatre recently experimented with bloggers/livetweeters. I can ask Jessie to chime in.

Lois Dawson (@SMLois)January 23rd, 2012 at 9:30 pm

My comment from Google+: So many blog posts and news articles on this topic of late. My opinion, in a nutshell, is that not all shows are suited to live-tweeting, and neither are all venues, but that there are times and places where it can be a great way to connect the work to the audience. There are many examples of times that it has worked. Most recently, The Public Theatre in NYC did an experiment and invited 25 guest tweeters. You can read about the success of the experiment via one of the participants here:

Janis La CouvéeJanuary 24th, 2012 at 8:35 am

Great discussions and points. Would love to continue the conversation. I’m sure it’s a topic that won’t go away.

To my knowledge we have not yet experimented with live tweeting in theatres in Victoria.

James Carter remarks in the blog @SMLois mentions above that many people (himself included) found the process at the particular play he live tweeted to appear “pretentious” and “self-referential”.

I’m not sure those attributes would necessarily draw people to theatre.

On the other hand “25 tweeters and 483 tweets generated, resulting in 270,359 impressions, reaching an audience of 32,700 followers” could be great PR.
Janis La Couvée recently posted..Free Monthly Skates – Victoria BC

mehnazJanuary 24th, 2012 at 8:41 am

As a former performer – I have been in choirs since, oh birth – I find that sort of activity disturbing. I think it’s disrespectful to the performers. Imagine pouring your heart out to someone when you’re out for dinner and all they do is look at their phone.
While I understand the merits of live-tweeting the action for the benefit of others, as a performer, I’d highly advise against it.

Second, you paid for the tickets, so you’re present. Enjoy the show!

That being said, it really depends on the concert. Rock concert at GM? I can see how that would be okay. But the symphony? Maybe not so much!
mehnaz recently posted..Monday Percolator – January 23

HarrietJanuary 24th, 2012 at 11:03 am

As a partron of the arts and someone who works IN the arts, I am also of two minds. Upside: Great for promotion of the show. Excellent for those with short attention spans. Downside: Disruptive. So… so long as the seats are at the back or set off in a separate area, I think it’s worth a go. Of course, if the show demands total darkness, all bets are off.

[...] someone else’s blog topic, but after I posted a 300+ word comment to Raul Pacheco’s blog post “Should theatres allow live-tweeting of their shows?”, it occurred to me that I had written enough for a blog post of my own, and I still have more to [...]

[...] someone else’s blog topic, but after I posted a 300+ word comment to Raul Pacheco’s blog post “Should theatres allow live-tweeting of their shows?”, it occurred to me that I had written enough for a blog post of my own, and I still have more to [...]

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