Mad World: Twitter in the Theatre?

iphone1I read a comment on Facebook today which made me stop in my tracks: The Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne announcing that they are planning on trialling ‘live tweeting’ during performances.

Ok. Breathe. It’s not the end of the world, right? It’s just a little bit of micro-reviewing, right?

There are greater things to be concerned about that this, I know. But after thinking about it and thinking about it, I just can’t come to terms with the idea, and I wonder how many people share my view…

I completely understand why there seems to be a demand for something like this – social media is one of the most powerful platforms for communication at present. And I applaud Malthouse Theatre for stepping up to the plate. But in all honesty, I’m not sure the theatre is the right place to allow unbridled use of social media.

Malthouse Theatre have stated that their trial would be controlled and only during specific performances. How will they control it? What’s not to stop people using email, messaging recording video or sound simultaneously? What performances do you suppose they might choose to trial this new idea? A dramatic new piece? A comedy? A fast paced, wordy little show which requires more than a little concentration on behalf of the audience? Will the seating be allocated in the back row of the theatre, off to the side so as not to distract?

I know I am not well acquainted with this concept, but in my opinion, I am struggling to see the point: by the time you open your twitter client, type your message, hashtag it, check it for errors, realise you’ve gone over the character limit, edit and send – you’ve missed an important plot point, a memorable performance from one of the hard working actors on stage, and you’ve distracted the person beside you with your phone’s blinding white light.

Really, unless the piece of theatre in question has been specifically created to be interactive via social media, why would there be any need for patrons of the show to live tweet about what they see? [And, just quietly, I think that would be a really interesting experiment, but it would need to be part of the show].

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Theatre is not like sport – the show is always going to end the same way. Yes, there may be subtle differences during the performance from night to night, but unless we’re in a choose-your-own-adventure show, the run time will be the same, the plot and script will be the same, and the outcome will be the same.

So how, would tweeting during the show be of any interest to anyone? (except perhaps the actors reading the tweets in the dressing room, or the tweeters themselves, who are satisfying their itch to play with their smartphone every 30 seconds).

Jane just finished monologue in #xyz and seemed to stumble on last words. Oops. #livetheatre

Sitting in front row and a bit of spittle landed on my iPhone screen during the intricate vocal rally onstage. Shame i’m writing this and not paying attention to the show…

Ok. Lol. So she dies in the end! #justgaveawaythewholestory

As a performer, one of the most distracting and disconcerting things to see during a performance is an illuminated face in the distance. There is nothing subtle about using your mobile phone in the theatre – especially from a performer’s perspective. It’s rude. Hugh Jackman thinks so, Patti Lu Pone thinks so.

As an audience member, part of the charm of the theatre is to be transported to another place other than your own reality. To suspend your disbelief for a few hours while you empathise with the characters on stage before you. To discuss the piece with your peers after the work has concluded and after you have taken in all the necessary information needed to process the show…

At the train station yesterday, my partner took a photo of the people on his platform waiting for the train. 7 people with their heads bent at 45 degrees, looking at their iPhones. It was horrifying. We use our phones enough as it is  – do we really need them in the theatre too?

What do you think? Should live tweeting be allowed in the theatre? What purpose would it serve? Leave your comments below…



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Erin James is's Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

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