Audience Etiquette – Live Tweeting?

There are certain behavioral norms when one attends a movie. We get to the cinema complex, pay more than we should for a seat, and then pay way more than we should for stale popcorn. If we get our seats by the listed start time, we watch a few (or more) previews until they roll the public service announcement to silence phones and to limit talking during the movie.

Many of us probably have stories of seeing a movie with an audience member who thinks these rules are for everyone else but them. Yes, it’s annoying, and yes, we can complain about it. The point in bringing up the topic – is that we know these cultural rules. Most of us abide them, and even apply them to live performances.

At the Zoellner Arts Center, before every performance, the house manager makes an announcementimgres-1 to remind audiences to turn off their cell phones and to not text message as the activity can disturb other patrons. Taking video and photography are often forbidden. Sometimes, it’s a contract issue, other times – it’s extremely distracting to the performers. A flash can even temporarily blind a dancer. This is very dangerous when dancers near the edge of the stage.

Perhaps the audience is so suspended in their moment of disbelief that they forget the actors/dancers/musicians on stage are live, and can SEE YOU. Did you know that cell phones illuminate your face? It’s almost like there’s a flashlight under your chin.  In fact, they often respond to the audience’s reaction. When audience and performers are sharing the same moment, the art form comes to it’s fullest circle of being.

But there are times, when one person in the audience can wreck it. There have been a few extraordinary tales of audience members causing so much distraction, the performance had to stop. Hugh Jackman, Patti Lapone and even Alan Gilbert had to make a scene.

imgresNow, some audiences are encouraged to TWEET during live performances. According to Mashable, “The Providence Performing Arts Center in Providence RI has designated a section of its theatre for “tweet seats” since last spring. “ According to the center’s marketing-project coordinator, they “place participants under strict guidelines and ask them to remain discreet while they are tweeting.” The National Symphony Orchestra supplemented a performance of Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony with prepared tweets from the conductor sent to the audience during key moments of the score.

This is a topic we’ve been following for some time. Today, The National Endowment for the Arts is having a very robust conversation about it ON TWITTER. But we’re curious. What do you think about it? Please add your comments below.

Are there certain times when live-tweet from the audience is OK? When is it not? Will this become a new cultural understanding much in the same way that some know when to applaud? BTW, do you know when it’s appropriate to applaud?

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5 comments

  1. Tweeting during performances seems silly b/c it really doesn’t share anything with the rest of the world.
    If somebody tweets, “Man, this is a *bitchin’* 20-minute jam on ‘Midnight At The Oasis!,” it doesn’t actually help anyone else in the world experience that version of “Midnight At the Oasis.”

    Scheduled tweets during Beethoven reminds me of the snarky comments Frank Zappa used to make on the Mothers’ albums: “This is what they call a crescendo. See the way it builds up?”

  2. As a performer, I absolutely hate this.
    As an audience member, I absolutely hate this.
    As a marketer, I understand the appeal.

    The audience member and performer in me win out – this is a trend/concept I hate.

    Experience the event that your at. Tweet about it before and after. Chances are you paid good money to attended an event, so experience it with your eyes, not through a tiny handheld screen.

  3. Last night at the Alfie Boe concert at MSH, someone approaching the stage to take a picture prompted Alfie to have all his band come to the corner of the stage where they posed. It certainly interupted the concert, and we probably lost a song he otherwise would have performed. As a gracious performer, he laughed, and made jokes throughout the show about audience interruptions.

  4. I have to agree with my colleagues kblumenau and Jon Lunger on this. Both are dead-on.

    As a performer, I have no problem reminding the audience that we’re in this together. We made a date, and have an equal responsibility to each other and everyone in the room. Let’s be nice, and we’ll have a lot of fun.

    The artist is giving you 100% of his or herself. Actors must stay in character. The orchestra must remain focused on the conductor and vice-versa. The audience should respect that and just enjoy the show for all it is worth.

    And now, stepping up onto the soapbox…

    When you go to a show, it’s not about you as an individual. You’re an audience member. I’ve watched audiences come in the door, sit down, establish a relationship with each other and the performer(s) within the first five minutes. In agreement with kblumenau, repeated live tweets (or live Facebook posts, or text messages) are not compelling, nor are they crucial to the success of the show.

    To those who would argue, I say this: Come in to a show, sit down and be humble. Let yourself be amazed. Let your jaw drop. Let the art affect you, and touch every emotion possible. That’s what art is supposed to do. And when the show is over, go tell everyone you know. Tell them with passion in your voice, belly-laughing, or maybe even with a tear in your eye. That’s compelling.

  5. I’m intrigued by the idea of tweets to help the audience understand what is going on in the music – specifically, art music with no words. There’s form, patterns, timbres, listening skills to highlight while someone is listening that could help the audience have a deeper understanding of the music. But, like the options a viewer has to read the director’s commentary on a DVD at home, the audience member has a choice to engage with this “layer” of information through the experience.

    Perhaps my perspective is informed by a few other considerations.
    1. As an art docent, I help a viewer work through the context, process and provenance by providing information after they share their observations of what they see in static works of art.
    2. When I experience a new sport, I like to have someone explain to me what’s going on during the action.
    3. We also have a prevalence for “critique” in the many competition shows like *American Idol* and *So You Think You Can Dance*. The judges provide a little more insight into technique and style so that the audience gets a little more understanding of what they are voting for beyond “looks and personality.” (there’s another blog post in how these types of shows inform audience taste; but I don’t want to diverge here)

    I remember having a discussion with my mom about super titles over the stage for opera. She said by the end of the night, her neck was sore from all the nodding up to read the translation, and back down to see the staging. She also giggled a couple of times with the titles weren’t exactly with the music. Worse, the titles pre-empted a joke that hadn’t been sung yet, and the singers were angry that the audience got to the punch line before they did. But when one considers the very complicated synopsis of the act is to be read before the lights go out; the new audience member is totally lost until a kind soul can tell them what’s going on at intermission.

    I’m not a supporter of live tweeting for every audience experience, but I can see educational advantages.


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