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Tweet seats

Posted by Robin Abrahams  January 17, 2012 03:00 PM

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I did an interview on NECN this morning about "Tweet seats" in theaters. Most editorials and letters to the editor have been against the seats, but I think they are a potentially great idea. Honestly, when people use words like "vulgar" or "unsavory," you know they are reacting more to the idea of a thing than to the thing itself.
 

Some of my talking points: 

Twitter is a technology that theaters can try to suppress, or can channel to enhance the theatrical experience. 

Theater as an art form has always responded to changes in technology and social mores. (Theater snobs who like to say they wish they could have seen one of Shakespeare's original productions wouldn't. The body odor alone would put you into intensive care.) 

Theaters need to solve the problems of what plays should and shouldn't have "tweet seats," and how to keep people from recording or photographing with smart phones. 

Art is social. Who are you sharing the experience with: the people you are physically in the room with, or your virtual friends and followers? 

I don't buy the "distraction" argument. For one thing, tweet seats will be in one section, and for another -- audiences learn what to pay attention to and what not to. If you ever attend theater with a small child, their wandering attention will remind you how very many things are going on constantly besides the action onstage. Before electricity, stage plays didn't have spotlights to show the audience where to look. They figured it out anyway. 

I contacted Nick Peterson, the marketing director for Central Square Theater, who wrote:
 
Tweet Seats has already proven to be a provocative issue among both theater professionals and audience members. At Central Square Theater we've had some very intense, passionate, and thoughtful discussions. Seating is a critical part of the experience in our intimate 225 seat black box theater. For every configuration, for instance, we carefully consider where latecomer seating is in the theater. For tweet seats to be successful, fellow audience members who are not tweeting must have no idea that it is even happening inside the theater. There would have to be zero impact. My hope for any theater that implements Tweet Seats would be that Tweeters would become so engrossed and absorbed in the theatrical experience that they would forget to update their followers. That's a challenge we should all aspire to in creating theatrical experiences.
I also talked to Ben Evett, founder of Actors Shakespeare Project and producer of a new theatrical experience, "Blood Rose Rising," which will open in February. He was even more positive:
 
I believe it is essential for theaters to welcome new technology into their houses. Theatre is not about a private experience. It's about a shared experience. Awareness of other members of the audience and their response to the work is essential to the idea of theatre. And it's an extraordinary opportunity. Theaters now have the chance for their work to reach people around the world who cannot experience the immediacy of the live event, but receive a beautiful ghost of that experience through the medium of their friends who are present. This is a powerful idea. It doesn't mean people won't want to go the theatre. On the contrary, people will want to BE there, to BE that conduit for others. Theaters ignore this reality at their peril. And for those audience members who are annoyed by the glowing screens around them, just imagine what it must have been like to be at the Globe, in broad daylight with orange sellers, and nobles coming and going and groundlings talking back at the stage whenever the mood struck them. Theatre is messy. It's communal. It's alive!
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at missconduct@globe.com.
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Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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