I know it smacks of a Hallmark card, which is never a compliment coming out of my mouth, but there is a large amount of truth on that little poster. Trying to make it in this society as an artist is a dubious endeavor. Everything we try to accomplish runs counter to societal mores. Everything that society expects or demands from a person runs counter to what we're trying to accomplish. We attempt to make the new, the fresh, where society desires the status quo. Society expects us to measure ourselves against certain standards and benchmarks, most of them associated with money and prestige and power, and any attempt to make art along those avenues will end in disaster. We are people who must perform brain surgery looking into a mirror. We must perform some of the most delicate, life-giving work, and we must do it backwards. All of the above is so ingrained in us that we can't help, from time to time, to fall prey to their pull. I've found that, from time to time, that I need to get away. Far away from society or at least what is familiar to me, leaving the laptop and cell phone and all means of communication with society far away. Beaches and mountains are good for this. Countries where English isn't spoken are other good places. Sitting with like-minded people helps, who don't question or judge me is also a good idea, especially if it also involves food and drink. I'm usually one of the first who says, throw away the rules, but this time I think these are worth keeping.
There's was quite an uproar going on a week or so ago on Facebook among theater artists about the notion that some Boston theaters are thinking of allowing audience members to tweet during shows. I refrained from commenting because, for one thing, there was a lot of commenting already going on (notably on Rick Parks' Facebook page) and I wasn't sure I had anything more to add. Clicking the "like" button was about all I thought I could add to the dialogue. Also, about the same time as the tweeting debate was going on, President Obama was signing into law the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows for the arrest and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists without a trial by the United States government. I was hoping the government would take heed of what the Boston theaters were doing and write an amendment to the legislation allowing political prisoners to tweet in prison, but since that didn't pan out I thought I'd weigh in on the subject.
I’m a huge proponent of social media, as anyone who is Facebook friends with me might know. I comment and repost—a lot. Does he have a life? many might wonder. The answer is, yes I do. But I think it’s important to be part of what is called, “the conversation.” I think it’s a two-way street and I don’t want to hoard the information that is passed along to me that I find useful, interesting, or amusing. It’s not 100% true, but the more I give, the more I find is given to me. It really is all about openness and sharing.
So, when I first heard about the tweeting question, I didn’t freak. I thought to myself, hmmm, interesting. But then, the moe I thought about it the more I began wonder if we should do something just because we can do it? #TheManhattenProject. #RollingStonesAnniversaryTour. #TweetingInTheTheater. I couldn’t quite see what would be gained by tweeting? How would the theater experience be enhanced for anyone—the audience member or the recipient of the tweet? It seems to me it would reduce the theater experience by taking the tweeter out of the experience, not to mention anyone who is within eyesight of the tweeter’s backlit screen, whether it’s an audience member or an actor. I wracked my brains trying to think what would be so important that couldn’t wait for intermission or the end of the play? “Mark Rylance is genius. #jerusalem”. Nor could I imagine the point of tweeting the blow by blow of a play, like a baseball score. That would completely go against the live experience of the theater. “Ivy & Charles r sis & bro?? Didn’t see that comin’ #osagecounty”.
There are moments during a live performance when the participants—the actors and the audience—are so engrossed that someone tweeting would be a jolt. The tweeter would be ruining the theatrical experience for themselves and those around them. What do we do in the theater? Why do we go if it isn’t for that intensity that comes through the immediacy and the one-on-one intimacy?
Still, I actually thought of a couple of venues/productions where I didn’t necessarily feel that tweeting would be that intrusive. The Donkey Show, I think, would be one. Standing in a crowd on the floor of the Oberon, I don’t think a tweeter would bother me in the least. And it does seem to be the kind of production that might even welcome tweeting. Oddly, I don’t think I would be too bothered during a production of Sleep No More. I feel the masks already shield and isolate audience members, and the actors are dealing with the proximity of the audience already. And, I don’t think I would be bothered during a raucous Gold Dust Orphans production at the Machine, although I did once see Ryan Landry stop a show and hammer an audience member for taking pictures with a phone camera. I even remember thinking that I thought that was odd, because I can only imagine that the Orphans, like a lot of small theaters, would benefit from someone posting a pic (or a tweet) somewhere on the Internet, but if that’s how Ryan wants to run his company I’m certainly not going to argue. But personally, I think if, during these examples, an audience member feels compelled to reach out to someone outside that particular theatrical world, it would be only to their detriment and not mine or anyone else’s.
And while I still haven’t heard of one, yet, I can imagine that someday tweeting will somehow be actually integrated into the world of a play, with the actors tweeting the audience, or each other. So, I guess what I’m leaving with is the idea that tweeting in the theater might have its place for certain productions.
John Greiner-Ferris is a playwright who lives and writes in the Boston area.