To tweet or not to tweet: that is the question.
Saturday night at the Tapestry Briefs performance, Artistic Director Michael Mori invited the audience to employ social media, to post to Facebook or to tweet. He even gave us the appropriate hashtags to use (although I used the wrong ones).
I know people who detest any signs of a smartphone in a theatre. To go into a theatre and tweet during the performance felt like a transgressive act, a violation of the usual rules.
I didn’t see any stipulations, such as “wait until each 5 minute play is over,” or “if you’re going to post remarks to Facebook please sit where your screen won’t bother your neighbours”. Nobody said that. We were as far as I know, free to be where we wanted, to tweet or post as we wished. I was grateful because it meant I didn’t need to bring pen & paper to make notes, that I could use my smartphone for that purpose. But I was only comfortable hiding myself and my glowing screen in the back row. As Tapestry Briefs gets us to move around from space to space, I chose the back row each time. Those of you who know my preferences will know this is also against my personal grain. I always try to sit in the front row whenever possible, and love getting into it if possible with the performers.
But this time I chose the back row.
And so I tweeted a couple of banal comments, beginning before the show.
- #tapestryopera #boostershots seems like a good idea tweet tweet sip sip
- #tapestryopera whiskey envy: living in Scarborough need to drive home. Can I get that scotch in a takeout cup?? Please?
- Green tea! #tapestrybriefs has something for all even the teetotaller mmmm not bad
- #tapestrybriefs full house tonight in a show true to the distillery district’s roots
The operas began. It’s impossible to tweet during a 5 minute show, you’d miss it if you put your head down. There’s a tiny gap between each.
- #tapestrybriefs opera can still make magic. #1984 never gets old
Hm, in that brief pause between tweeting makes sense (for once). There’s no time for more than about 50 characters.
- #tapestryoperaU.R. Stunning magnificent
And then I came into another space and got a bit too cocky I suppose. No one stipulated where I should sit, but this time I sat as I usually did: in the front row. And of course that’s when I was told to put my phone away and to stop by one of the officials of Tapestry.
I felt toyed with. And tweets –even banal stupid ones like the ones i made– are free advertising. There I am puffing their show and they tell me to stop?
My review used an analogy that may seem wrong.
As I drove home I was thinking that Michael’s invitation might be a bit like the Emancipation Proclamation, a decree only as meaningful as the functionaries & bureaucrats who could make it real. All I can say –and I think Michael likely agrees with me—is that while most in the theatre probably still hate the smartphone, there are probably ways to make it work. I sat for part of the show in the very back row, so as to avoid upsetting anyone with my glowing screen.
But in that analogy where I invoke the Emancipation Proclamation, is the tweeter like a slave seeking freedom? Or are the audience members –the ones forced to endure that glowing little phone—more like the ones oppressed at every turn by social media morons like myself, seeking liberation from the glow and the tap tap tap?
I wonder if tweeting put some noses out of joint? I wasn’t really looking of course, so i can’t say, beyond my misadventure with the person who shut me down. I wonder if Michael’s invitation was upsetting the purists: those who believe opera should be done in the dark among silent rapt listeners.
How ironic. What is the ideal audience configuration for new opera, or older operas for that matter? I can only point to history, plus a few experiences.
History tells us that until Wagner, the theatre’s lights weren’t dimmed but actually illuminated. Go back a century or more from Wagner and you have a noisy theatre full of people doing their business, even having dinner in their boxes. Alcina, for example, would have been presented in a light theatre full of patrons whose silence was intermittent rather than continuous. We do Handel no favours when we expect his music to hold our interest in a big dark silent theatre for all that time. He never expected us to behave like that. I sometimes wonder if Marshall Pynkoski could be persuaded to try an experiment with his audience, getting us to watch with lights up, going in and out whenever we wish, following our libretti and perhaps also using our smartphones to tweet and take photos (but no flash of course).
The closest thing I’ve had to this fantasy was in the Opera Atelier noon-hour preview to Alcina at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, where I was photographing non-stop (with their blessing & permission please note). I posted a review with a few of my photos. So long as there’s no flash, I believe this would take us closer to the kind of audience Handel had in his time.
In the summer I had a comparable experience with the visit of the Bicycle Opera Project to Stratford’s Revel Caffé.
I had fun taking my smartphone into the opera. Is this something to be encouraged? So long as you make special arrangements for the seating (that is, if visible smartphones are going to make some people seethe with anger) why not?
The counter-argument goes something like this: that anyone who needs to tweet during an opera isn’t an audience member you want, that if opera needs to chase this kind of audience, the art-form is dead.
I can’t argue for one side or the other. I felt weird tweeting at an opera, and felt weirder still when –after accepting the invitation—I was stopped in mid tweet, like a bird having his beak closed.
But I think any baroque opera making claims of historical accuracy should be presented with lights up in a theatre allowing us to go in and out. Social media could be a part of this. As for contemporary opera –that is, anything written in the past 30 years—I don’t know that there’s any one right way to do it. Purism in the presentation of something new feels odd.
But in future if there are any invitations to tweet I am always going to hide in the back row. Or keep my beak shut until the show is over.