TWEET SEATS ON THE HOT SEAT

Jan 19, 2012


A growing number of theaters and performing groups across the country are setting aside "tweet seats," in-house seats for patrons to live-tweet during performances. 

 

 
Rick Dildine, the executive director for Shakespeare Festival St. Louis — an outdoor theater festival that began using tweet seats two years ago — said tweet seats have "become a national trend."
 
"Coast to coast, theaters are experimenting with how to use 'tweet seats' effectively," he said. "The arts are evolving right now, they are participatory. … Social media is a tool we rely on, and we have been unafraid to experiment with it.”
 
Goodspeed Opera House's public relations manager Elisa Hale moderated the conversation from backstage during Hello! My Baby. "This is sort of an enhancement … because there is a way to interact during the show," she said. Hale says there were "no negative comments" from patrons about the tweet seats, located in the back row of the theater to avoid disrupting other patrons.
 
Major venues such as Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Kennedy Center in Washington have not tried tweet seats and expect audience members not to access their phones during performances.
 
"We make a pre-performance announcement asking patrons to turn off their … cellphones in order to keep the light and sound from distracting other patrons," said Patricia O'Kelly, a Kennedy Center spokeswoman.
 
Spokespeople for public relations firms Jeffrey Richards Associates, Hartman Group and O&M said the Broadway productions they represent have not used tweet seats. But Jennifer Tepper, the director of promotions for Godspell on Broadway, says the production intends to use them.
 
"While we haven't done tweet seats, they are certainly in our plan for the future at Godspell," she said.
 
EVOLUTION
 
Tweet seats first started surfacing at the end of the '00s. In 2009, the Lyric Opera in Kansas reserved 100 tweet seats for its final performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore." In those seats (and only those seats) audience members could use their phones to look at tweeted content sent by the theater's artistic director about the production, the scenery and whatever was happening on stage. Audience members were also encouraged to tweet questions in real time.
 
The National Symphony Orchestra was one of the earliest orchestras to deliver real-time program notes via Twitter during its performance of Beethoven's Sixth conducted by Emil de Cou at Virginia's Wolf Trap Center for the Performing Arts in July 2009.
 
The Indianapolis Symphony has also experimented with tweeting sections, adding social media to traditional modes, such as pre-concert lectures and program notes.

RESPONSE
 
"To tweet or not to tweet is a question that many performing arts organizations have wrestled with [for] the past few years," says Chris Pinelo of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO).
 
For its part, CSO has gotten a generally favorable response for its small section of "tweet seats" from which patrons can follow a designated hashtag on their mobile devices or tablets.
 
"Basically, it functions like interactive program notes," says Pinelo. "So you have an assistant or associate conductor backstage giving some insights into the music you're experiencing, and then you're able to respond, and it's like a digital conversation.

The Lowell Memorial Auditorium, the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, and the Central Square Theater are all either offering tweet seats, or are considering doing so, reported the Boston Globe.
 
While the mainstream media (of course) and some bloggers have blown this way out of proportion (see the NYT, The L Magazine) there are still some kinks to be worked out in the communication feedback loop.
 
For example, playwright Jason Grote told the Washington Post that he is, “uncomfortable with plans of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington, D.C., to allow three Twitter followers to tweet from dress rehearsals of his new play, "Civilization (all you can eat)."

Are tweet seats going to have a huge impact? Maybe not. But this is less of a populist gimmick than some might suggest, and more of a recognition of the fact that this is how and where people want to communicate. Audiences want to be involved in the dialogue of process, and the process of dialogue. It's about participation.

Despite the folderol, tweet seats seem to have only proven positive. Check out the Palm Beach Opera's Storified tweets from their tweet seats during the final dress rehearsal of Madama Butterfly.

You can find additional testimony on Miss Conduct's blog from The Boston Globe Magazine.

 
 (SOURCES: USA TODAY; LA TIMES; NPR)

Tags: tweet seats, twitter, audience participation

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TECHNOLOGY: Social Media