Tweetseats: To tweet or not to tweet?



Live performances, especially in the classical, high art genres (nonprofit organizations), have been struggling to catch up with other media areas and for-profit arts enterprises when it comes to today’s technological standards and social media, the tailoring and personalization available, the participatory nature of events, and the fact that “audiences are becoming co-creators of content” (p. 72).  There have always been arts events that have elements of audience participation, such as Rocky Horror Picture Show cult showings, Sound of Music sing-alongs, or even performances of Handel’s Messiah where the audience sight-reads the choruses; however, when marketing to younger generations and competing with the popular arts, there is still a long way to go.  Classical music or theater, for example, is most often live performances not recordings, professionals, not amateurs, and not evolving with the convergence culture trends seen elsewhere.  Often, the most ‘convergent’ aspect is the repertoire that is performed- with arts producers playing it safe and sticking to the well-known literature and less risky ventures.

One of the newer experiments that is being seen with the phenomenon of Twitter is the concept of ‘Tweetseats’.  This has been especially prevalent in the theater.  Articles from the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Avenue Q (the musical), the Bonstelle Theater, and the St. Louis Shakespeare Festival all discuss or promote ‘Tweetseats’.

New technology enables the audience to respond instantaneously, but will that replace deeper reflection later?  It will help to ‘personalize’ and ‘participate’, but is that worth it?  Will this engage the audience more- or will it distract them and will they miss out?  Why is tweeting before, during intermission, and after not enough?  Will this change the experience- perhaps in a negative way for the audience as a whole?  Is this more appropriate for live sports or popular music concerts- or could they have a place in the classical arts?

Classical purists and artists themselves are (for the most part) against ‘tweetseats’, but the other side argues that “the arts can’t afford to turn their backs on broad social trends; they’re already fighting for relevance.  Mobile devices and Twitter are tools that help many people feel engaged and connected with their worlds, and if we don’t let them bring those tools to their arts experiences we may as well be saying, “This is something separate — it isn’t part of your world…  If we don’t allow them to engage with the arts on their own terms, or partially on their own terms, I’m afraid we’re going to lose a generation for the arts.” (Alan Brown,

~Emmalyn Helge

Debate: The role of technology devices in theaters and concert halls from Cultural Policy Center on Vimeo.

A live debate between Martha Lavey, Artistic Director of Steppenwolf Theatre Company, and Alan Brown, Principal, WolfBrown. Moderated by Roger Tomlinson, Associate of Baker Richards and Managing Director of Roger Tomlinson Limited.

As a field, we are grappling with serious issues surrounding the sanctity of the audience experience. What are the limitations of audience interaction and engagement during arts experiences? Are we undermining the art forms by inviting audience members to Tweet?

‘Not to tweet’. Believe that:

􏰀 Audiences should give performers their undivided attention

􏰀 Performers should be protected from audience distraction

􏰀 Those who are ‘live tweeting’ can miss parts of the performance and their experience is compromised

􏰀 Tweeters should be able to control themselves until interval

‘To tweet’. Believe that:

􏰀 Audiences are always distracted by something or other – it may as well be tweets

􏰀 Tweets provide useful and relevant peer-to-peer reviews that help influence and persuade new audiences

􏰀 Enabling tweeters to express themselves in real time during a performance harnesses their enthusiasm

􏰀 In the right context (generally a more noisy one) tweeting is appropriate

-Emmalyn Helge


2 Responses to “Tweetseats: To tweet or not to tweet?”

  1. By Emmalyn Helge

  2. 2 T505,0,7795377.story
    Another Tweet-Cert (play on Concert) story about the Pacific Symphony!!!

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