Normally when I’m writing here about new expressions it’s in a spirit of cheerful, disinterested curiosity and the desire to pass on whatever I’ve managed to find out. But when I recently came upon tweet seat (courtesy of good old wordspy.com), I found myself spluttering like Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells. Yes, gentle reader, there are now theaters on both sides of the Atlantic where the management reserves certain spots for people who want to text or Twitter during the performance. A February piece in the Florida Sun-Sentinel quoted one Tara Gustman’s excited tweet from Madame Butterfly at the Palm Beach Opera: “Orchestra just made me jump out of my seat!” The reporter, Johnny Diaz, goes on: “Across South Florida, arts venues are exploring how to draw a younger audience that may not traditionally attend live theater performances. And it serves as a promotional tool, allowing theatergoers to broadcast instant reviews in real time to people who follow their Twitter accounts.”
Let me count the ways
So what is wrong with tweeting during live performances? Here is a list, derived from the commenters on another piece by Ruth Jamieson in the Guardian in which she said, “Twittering at the theatre is like drinking on the tube. Fine and dandy, so long as nobody knows.” A commenter named thehorse said: “Why go if you intend to do something else when you get there?…For all those who wish to pose as being omnipotent, twitter away and then hopefully wonder at the frivolity of your own human experience because you were never ever anywhere when all of it happened.” Here is Ellieface: “How anyone can think it’s OK to tweet in the theatre is beyond me. yes, Twitter is fun. Yes, Twitter is mildly addictive. But the sight of someone’s lit-up screen (which a cupped hand does not hide at all) in a darkened auditorium makes me want to snatch their phone and crush it. Seriously.” And Lilythepunk: “How are you going to review the play you’re (not) watching if it hasn’t even finished yet?” Last but not least, prettykittykat: “It’s bad enough to do it in a cinema but when you do it in a theatre you disturb not only your fellow audience members but could distract the cast. Imagine how you’d feel if you were on stage and noticed someone not paying attention and tweeting away.”
So, there it is: first, what can you actually be taking in of a performance if you’re busy tweeting it? Second, why is reviewing a performance while it’s still in progress more useful to people who aren’t there than one sent during the intermission or after it’s over? Third, it’s insulting to the performers. Fourth, it enrages everyone in the audience trying to watch rather than tweet about it. Fifth (an extension of the first point): how to you ever experience anything purely if you attempt to comment on it all while it’s happening?
This is one new expression I hope dies a-borning. Fortunately today there are plenty of theaters where the pressure is on for audience members to have their cell phones fully turned off, let alone tweeting. One man whose phone rang in the middle of a performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony at Avery Fisher Hall in New York’s Lincoln Center in January was nearly shriveled by the shame and public opprobrium. Long may it last.—TAMARA GLENNY