|Frankenstein, Living Theatre, 1968. Photo: Daniel Vittet|
To some, it sounds like a sacrilege. To others, it sounds like a welcome relief for their itchy, iPhone-addicted fingers. The practice of allowing audience members to tweet during a performance—dubbed "tweet seats"—has been a cause of much debate in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and in performing arts community. Several theaters have recently set aside designated sections so that Twitter-loving audience members can tweet to their virtual heart’s content, and not disturb the people sitting next to them.
Now let us be clear that BAM does NOT condone this practice, although tweeting is encouraged during BAMcafé Live, our free music series on Friday and Saturday nights. But in the Howard Gilman Opera House and the Harvey Theater, cell phone usage is strictly verboten. Many of you are very familiar with this almighty voice:
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But it’s interesting to think about the history of modern theater and how norms of audience behavior and participation have evolved. During Shakespeare’s time, the famous Globe Theater was not unlike a circus, with spectators eating, drinking, playing cards, you name it. Robert Wilson encouraged audience members to get up and move around during the 1984 performance of Einstein on the Beach. The Living Theatre often incorporated audience participation as part of their performances, and audiences were regularly invited on stage. As seats themselves become optional and communication is not only solicited but becomes a part of the experience itself, couldn’t Twitter be incorporated as an interesting part of the mix?
Expectations of audience behavior also vary greatly depending on genre and context; tweeting during a live concert is very different from tweeting during the ballet. But perhaps it’s useful to recall Brecht here: when putting forth his manifesto for modern theater, he thought that the spectator should adopt an attitude of "smoking-and-watching" so that the performance could take on "the same fascinating reality as a boxing match."
Now we’re not sure what Bertolt Brecht would think of Twitter, but more importantly, what do you think of tweet seats? Do you think it’s a sign of the impending apocalypse? A new way to engage with live performance? Maybe both? Let us know in the comments—we want to hear from you!