There are some bogeymen that simply cannot be killed. The latest in a long line: tweet seats.
Most of the furious resistance over various theaters’ experimentation with tweeting during shows reminds me of nothing more than a conservative attempt to hold back history. The simple fact is that our culture is changing; we live in a new world of constant communication. Twitter and texting are not about to stop. They’re only going to get more pervasive, in all likelihood, and the technology’s only going to get more elaborate. There’s no going back. We’ve never gone back at all. Have we reverted to stone tablets or papyrus? No.
Those who oppose tweetseats stridently (like this fellow) have begun to sound, to me, like the conservative opponents of same-sex marriage who rant about “redefining the institution.” I say to both groups: the world has already redefined that institution, and you can either keep up with the change or be left behind.
I believe that if we simply cross our arms and say no–if we don’t incorporate the notion of self-expression by audience members into our worldview–our art form might end up on the margins… or cast entirely aside. I believe the only rational response is to embrace the change: to experiment with ways to integrate tweeting into live performance without affecting the experience of those who don’t want to tweet and get ahead of the cultural curve.
That doesn’t mean just opening every seat to anyone who wants to tweet in it. That means genuine experimentation, without prejudice or predisposition. It means trying things and seeing how they turn out: how they affect audiences, performers, and producers; how our art form adapts; how storytelling gets redefined; what we gain; what we lose. It means being dispassionate and scientific, rather than reactionary. And it would put us on a much more sound intellectual footing, moving forward, as we watch our culture adapt (and adapt ourselves in return).
I think that sort of reasoned response is what’s wanted here. Most of what I’ve encountered are strong emotions: good for drama on stage, but not off of it.
There are people who insist that if you can’t put your cell phone down and pay attention to one thing for an hour and a half, you don’t belong in the theater. Oy. There’s just so much wrong there, starting with the fact that we need to be finding ways to *include* people in the theater, not exclude them.
Don’t we all understand by now that humans have varied relationships to paying attention? Some find focusing easy, some do not. Do we tell the latter group that theater just isn’t for them? That doesn’t seem right to me.
Furthermore, I think we begin, all too often, with the presumption that the theater experience is supposed to be about solemnity and quiet… but that’s a new idea, historically. Tweeting while watching a play is really not that different than the kind of behavior audiences have engaged in for centuries.
There are those who fret over the fact that tweeting in the theater will disrupt the experience of non-tweeting theatergoers, but that doesn’t seem to hold water for me, either. There’s a reason that “seats” is part of the “tweetseats” nomenclature: specific seats are allocated so that glowing screens won’t affect those who prefer to avoid seeing them.
There are those who believe tweeters will make acting difficult, and that plays aren’t written to accommodate divided attention, to which I say… so what? We should just start learning how to act and write plays and direct plays for people who are giving us 70% of their attention, if we don’t know how to do that already. Because theater is as much their experience (the audience’s) as it is ours. More so theirs, even.
I don’t know the future. I don’t know what theater’s going to look like in five years, let alone fifty. But I know it won’t look the same. Change is as inevitable in theater as it is everywhere. Let’s embrace it, be smart about it, explore it, experiment, and get ahead of it… lest we fall behind.
Update: a comment on Twitter has led me to re-think the comparison I make above, in paragraph two, between opponents of tweet seats and opponents of same sex marriage.
What I’ve done in that paragraph is establish a moral equivalence where none really exists, and that’s a bad mis-step. For the record: opposing same sex marriage is vile and oppressive and much, much more horrific than opposing tweet seats. I know this personally, and I know this intellectually, and I know this emotionally.
I don’t edit my blog posts in situations like this–I find it’s more honest to own up to what I’ve written and published and admit my mistakes rather than trying to edit and eliminate them. In this instance, however, I think it’s worth saying that I don’t think my larger argument is harmed in any substantial way by the error I’ve made.