Arts and Humanities
11:29 am
Tue February 5, 2013

Tweeters Gonna Tweet?

Credit Håkan Dahlström/Creative Commons

Even Twitter users are divided on whether or not social media has a place during live arts events. 

The National Endowment for the Arts is leading a conversation on Twitter (#2TweetorNot2Tweet) about mobile social media use during performances. Are so-called Tweet Seats a fun engagement with a plugged-in audience of influencers, or are they a distraction from the events on stage? 

Some say bring it on—the more conversation the better: 

Others are cautiously optimistic: 

A compromise -- designated safe spots for lit-up screens: 

and

Others aren't convinced: 

And some are down-right offended by the idea: 

and

Actors Theatre of Louisville experimented with a Social Media Night during their run of "Romeo and Juliet" last fall. They designated balcony seats during one performance for lit screens and encouraged attendees to tweet, post to Facebook and engage in conversation about the show. Spokeswoman Kirsty Gaukel says the seats drew about 30 participants, most of whom were under 35 and first-time attendees of the theater. 

Marketing director Kory Kelly says Actors created the "Romeo and Juliet" balcony event to proactively attract different audiences to the theater. 

"In order to stay relevant to current and future audiences, we feel it is important to look at the trends in society and determine how, if at all, they can fit into the theatergoing experience," says Kelly. "The Balcony is an attempt to create a social environment, both in person and online, to reduce the barriers for audiences and meet them where they are in their life."

Tweet seats and the like also allow the institution to interact with their patrons as the event unfolds, fostering a different kind of audience dialog. Kelly calls it "providing a theatergoing experience with behind-the-scenes access," which has its appeal. Tweet a question about how the lighting effect works, hear back from the designer on the spot? 

Actors has another social media night planned for Thursday's performance of "Girlfriend," Todd Almond's  Matthew Sweet musical. With its blend of iconic Nineties pop music and uplifting, feel-good romance, "Girlfriend" is well-suited to the exuberant, on-the-spot 140-character exclamation tweet ("@ATLouisville They played this song at my Prom! #evangeline #GirlfriendATLou") in a way that a more somber and nuanced production, like, say, Matthew Lopez's Civil War drama "The Whipping Man" might not be. Tweet seats will once again be in the balcony of the Pamela Brown Auditorium, and the theater will set up a bar in the balcony an hour before the show (that alone could draw a crowd). Tickets are a discounted $20, and a Cocktails with the Cast event happens directly after the performance, encouraging patrons to stick around and mingle with the cast and band (and Instagram those photos, I assume). 

Is this a workable compromise to begin integrating social media use during performances? Dedicated evenings can attract Twitter power users and compulsive Instagrammers while warning off purists who think your attention shouldn't be divided between stage and screen. 

What do you think? Are you more or less likely to attend an arts event where social media use is encouraged? Can you think of live arts events that could benefit from the plugged-in energy of real-time social media engagement?