There’s been a discussion recently in the theatre community, the discussion of social media and it’s integration into what we do.
There have been many great points presented, from both sides, that of marketing and spreading awareness, word of mouth; and that of tradition and respect for the art, and whether or not you can truly be experiencing something and tweeting about it at the same time.
There have also been many explanations soaring around, the most hilarious of which that I’ve heard of is that by allowing younger patrons their ‘vices’ during performances they’ll be more inclined to enjoy them. As if anyone under 25 is incapable of sitting still and staring in the same direction for 2 hours without tweeting.
But the research is there to support this new addition to the theater atmosphere. To this date the largest number of tweets per second is attributed to a live televised screening of a film where viewers were encouraged to tweet about their experience, the event logged over 25,000 tweets per second. Who wouldn’t like that kind of publicity for their shows?
I’m an actor, and I’m not going to deny that people talking about the shows I’m in isn’t a huge rush. It is. It’s great to be watched, it’s great to have nice full houses every night. It’s great to go to the bar afterwards, make up washed off, and not be recognized, overhearing people chatting about you and the show you’re a part of. I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t checked in on twitter during intermission or a break in the show to see if anyone was talking about it, or if I could send off a quick reply to an audience member. Luckily I haven’t run across an incident of someone saying something horrible about the show or my performance, but I can imagine that if they did it would shake me. Actors love attention and praise. It takes many years to train ourselves to take corrections and criticism, and even then it still gets to us.
I understand the need to market, bums in seats, encourage conversation about art, I can’t argue against those things. But when I heard that one theatre was setting aside their front 2 rows as tweet seats, I was appalled.
Let’s get one thing straight, as actors we live in a very special world of divided attention. Yes we’re in a scene and we’re there, mourning the loss of love or dealing with a murder or undergoing a serious interrogation or involved in a very complex song and dance, or making you laugh hysterically with our neurotic behaviours. But there is 5% of our attention that is focused on you, the audience. It’s that small part of our animal brains, working subconsciously to feel you out. The laughter, the applause, the occasional gasp, the sound of tears. It’s that part of us that registers if there’s a fire and we all need to get out, or if someone’s cellphone goes off. It’s that 5% that made Patti Lupone stop the show or Hugh Jackman calls out an audience member whose phone was ringing. We are aware of what’s going on out there in the audience, every cough, every candy wrapper, every murmured comment, we know it’s happening.
So to put 60 people in the front two rows, the rows we can see because of the wash of the light, I can’t imagine what it would be like to look out into that audience and see, not the reflection of the light in people’s eyes, not faces sharing in an experience with me and the story, but the tops of heads, bent over glowing screens. The problem is, I don’t know what you’re doing. You could be taking pictures, or filming (which I don’t think are the worst things, but I’ll save that for another post), you could be texting your friend about where you’re meeting up after, you could be bored out of your skull and just trying to figure out where the nearest bridge is so you can jump off of it at intermission. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, but I can promise you there is no way that I’m then going to think ‘Ahh they must be tweeting about how awesome I am, that’s lovely’ because if I was that awesome, you would be watching.
I understand, there are people who need to text, tweet and stay connected. But as an actor, please, I ask you to sit in the back. Not just because you’re distracting me, but because you’re distracting the people behind you, or in front of you, and those seats could have gone to people who really want to feel like they’re a part of the experience, who want to lose themselves in the story. That’s not your thing, I get it, and I’m not mad, I’m glad you want to spread the word. But please, to keep the show as good as it can be, it’s best if I don’t see you, my ego’s just too fragile to take it.