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December 28, 2012


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Travis Bedard

Exactly. The problem with the Tweet Seats idea from the beginning isn't that technology and interconnectedness doesn't necessarily belong in the theatre, it's that theatre's want to append those things without changing what they're doing or creating anything new. Rather than creating a piece of theatre in which your interconnectedness is a piece of your experience not something you're doing apart from the experience...

But mostly I just like hearing you say Daddy-O again and again...


I have a huge problem with the characterization of quiet audiences as "docile." It's possible that what they're actually being is "attentive." This whole notion that truly liberated audiences would be yelling back at the stage seems like the few wanting to choose the experience of the many.

That said, I have no problem with a particular theater *trying* anything. If a theater can demonstrate that it's generated unprecedented interest and sales via tweet-seating, perhaps that's something we should talk about. I'll be shocked if that happens, but you know, I've been shocked before. I just think it's so much easier to talk about something we can observe, rather than a hypothetical.

Kari Bentley-Quinn

Love this. Thank you for saying it.


I'm now somewhat interested to see if a playwright would take up the challenge of writing a Tweet Seat Show in which the technology is designed to be an organic part of the show rather than a lame add-on.

Alejandro Morales


The one thing theater has in this day and age is that it is a live/shared/in person experience. It's the ALTERNATIVE to Twitter/Facebook/Instagram. It still amazes me these theaters keep asking what will bring people to the shows and they keep churning out work that is DOA.

I'd rather see seasons of really big messes that are ambitious and try hard and if they fail, they fail hard than some of the tepid and polite stuff I see (that often gets a character in a quirky cardigan in it to make it "edgy" or something) produced season after season. That will get people talking on social media AFTER the show.

One of the funny things about this Les Miz movie adaptation is how many conversations I've had about it over the last couple weeks. I wish that would happen with the theater.

Michael Wheeler

Hi Issac,

Long time reader, first time commenter.

I have to disagree with your analysis, mostly because my experience with tweet seats as a director in Toronto has not borne out the same results.

This is partially because we are not the adopters your post imagines. Our company Praxis Theatre is not a rarified institution seeking to solve audience demographics by improved marketing but, you know, like-minded emerging artists with no office or venue seeking to create great theatre in new ways with reasonable ticket prices.

We have found tweets seats valuable in two contexts:

One-off events
We sometimes have a political cabaret in Toronto organized by the theatre community called The Wrecking Ball that speaks to immediate political issues, usually with a theme. Our last one included Edward Bond writing a poem live with us in the theatre. The Wrecking Balls that have been live-tweeted created a performance environment I've never experienced before. We were watching, communicating with each other and broadcasting to the outside world. I think our attention was increased through this participation. Unlike picking up a program to disengage with a performance, participating in the live-tweeting was a step to greater involvement. Because it only happened once it seemed to be essential to all of us to discuss in realtime.

Workshop performances
We have found it useful to receive live feedback through tweeting and texting for works-in-progress. Unlike feedback sessions, brief chats afterwards, or "I'll send you an email", this allows us to get responses immediately and with less censorship regarding our feelings. It works best when the audience and the parameters of feedback we are seeking is clearly defined.

Where it hasn't worked
Just tweet seats for no reason with no clear guidance. We have had tweets seats for specific performances in a run of some of our shows. Without a reason, we found it made not so much sense and really provided no clear reason to engage.

Anyhow, I think the technology provides real opportunities to deepen and and invigorate the work if used specifically and with forethought about what you are hoping to achieve. Agree with all of your thoughts about major institutions resisting some of the changes they need to make, but I am suggesting incorporating interactive technologies where appropriate can be a good thing for companies small and large.

Michael Wheeler
Artistic Director - Praxis Theatre


The problem I see is that this isn't a problem with the theater; it's a problem with the younger (my) generation. A social initiative once tried gaining hold amongst my generation called "Phone Stacking." It's sort of a game. When you're out at dinner with friends/family/etc, everyone stacks their phones facedown in the center of the table. Anyone who picks up their phone to look at it before the bill is paid foots the entire bill. Of course, exceptions can be made ("My wife is expecting" "And you're going out to dinner, why?" But you get the drift).

My friends and I attempted this once. It was difficult. And it did, in fact, facilitate conversation. However, half of the conversation was about how hard it was to not look at one's phone. The Symbiotic Phone problem isn't just in our theaters; it's invading our everyday life. This is not an excuse for theater wanting to find itself younger and more hip audiences; rather, this is what some would call "good marketing." Unfortunately, so long as theater is run for profit, producers will do gimmicky things to get people in the seats. If there was ever a statistic showing that alcoholics' attendance in theater was rising, I promise you, someone out there would be offering happy hour preshows (with a price of one admission).

Maybe I'm angry and jaded, but I've stopped thinking of commercial theater as art. It used to wear a very nice disguise! It was the last sacred ground where business and art collided. But now it's just becoming shameless, and in the face of the economy, it's showing its true colors.


Hey Michael,

Yes, you're absolutely right that I wasn't talking about smaller theaters in this post, in the same way that Travis suggests that their might be a way to design a show from the ground up in which integrating technology makes sense, as it does in your first example of a cabaret with live-created political work etc. Which seems a perfectly appropriate way to incorporate twitter. There's a live thing in St. Paul called "WITS" hosted by John Moe, and they have tweeting deeply integrated into the show itself. But that's an interview and sketch comedy show, so there's no attempt at the kind of attention-requiring transportation that most theatre is going for.

I cannot imagine a workshop of a new play in which an audience was invited to tweet during it, nor would I ever consent to participate in one as an artist. The idea horrifies me. I'm old fashioned... buy someone a pint and ask them what they think after the show.

Michael Wheeler

Thanks for the response. I really like this blog.

It has been said the whole social media revolution is a shift "from monologue to dialogue". I think this notion is relevant to theatremakers: Capital A Audiences for all forms of entertainment are now capable of not just being broadcast at - from a stage or a television, etc - but also engaging. The world of communication is being repaved with two-way streets.

This is new, pretty major, and not just a gimmick. It's a real and genuine shift in how we interact and engage with each other. As a form of communication, theatre probably can't escape this reality.

Many years ago when electric lights replaced candlelight in theatres they were denounced by purists. There is an inevitable backlash to inevitable innovation, but here we are. I worry for theatre if we take a Luddite approach to this transformation, hoping if we ignore these tools they will expire. I will go as far as to say this is the short road to "the deadly theatre".

Probably what needs to happen is we need to take these tools out of the hands of marketing departments and into the hands of artists and dramaturgs so they are actually embedded in the work and ideas that surround it. Twitter might die, Tweet Seats might not take off, figuring out how to use online technologies to engage with audiences is here to stay.


Tweet Seats - how can you be surprised? First thing it made me think of was Blogger Nights. Remember those? ...so audience members could post real-time feeds of a show in progress? Didn't last very long. And I'm sure if you don't burst a blood vessel, this too shall pass, and you'll be around to see something even more annoying come along to out-do Tweet Seats. I recall some research about theater in the 1950's when some playwrights got the bright idea to put on shows in coffeehouses - some audiences really thought that the cups clinking on the saucers was absurdly distracting. It didn't last either, but look where it lead. ha.

Sam Buggeln

Hm hmmm.

In terms of my own work I agree of course, and have been seeing a lot of outrage about this. In terms of the larger conversation about what theatre is and has been, it's interesting to reflect that the "attention must be paid" model is historically pretty recent. It's what we do now, but it's specific to our time. Shakespeare's plays (like those of his contemporaries) are so long and repeat the same info multiple times because they were written to be performed for an audience that was drinking, talking to each other, talking back, coming and going, and otherwise not leaning forward to catch each precious drop of performance. Today, rightly, we cut those plays because we do pay that kind of attention.

More recently though, we can think of the 60's Brit playwright John Arden, who wrote big sprawling epic plays and hated the formality of the audience/actor relationship. He wrote about one such disappointment: "When I was writing my scripts… I regarded myself as preparing a story which would… in fact be me saying something of interest to a whole crowd of people whom I would have liked to believe my friends. If I personally told such a story to a group of real friends round a supper-table I would have expected them to react, to interrupt, to comment in a manner provocative some more prolonged discourse. If this did not happen in the theatre, was I to blame for my style of writing, were the public to blame for their false expectations, or should one blame the entire theatre and its inherited manner of presenation, publicity and technical device?"

He lays out a deeper description of his dream of a noisy, long, neo-Elizabethan way of making theatre in his intro to The Workhouse Donkey. He describes his dream theatre as kind of like a festival, or ballgame, where plays were 6 hours long and you could go to get food when things got boring and your friends would fill you in when you got back. He certainly wouldn't have minded Twittering. It's worth reading if only to stay cognizant of our own biases and of the vast possibilities out there.

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