Mad World: Twitter in the Theatre?

iphone1I read a comment on Facebook today which made me stop in my tracks: The Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne announcing that they are planning on trialling ‘live tweeting’ during performances.

Ok. Breathe. It’s not the end of the world, right? It’s just a little bit of micro-reviewing, right?

There are greater things to be concerned about that this, I know. But after thinking about it and thinking about it, I just can’t come to terms with the idea, and I wonder how many people share my view…

I completely understand why there seems to be a demand for something like this – social media is one of the most powerful platforms for communication at present. And I applaud Malthouse Theatre for stepping up to the plate. But in all honesty, I’m not sure the theatre is the right place to allow unbridled use of social media.

Malthouse Theatre have stated that their trial would be controlled and only during specific performances. How will they control it? What’s not to stop people using email, messaging recording video or sound simultaneously? What performances do you suppose they might choose to trial this new idea? A dramatic new piece? A comedy? A fast paced, wordy little show which requires more than a little concentration on behalf of the audience? Will the seating be allocated in the back row of the theatre, off to the side so as not to distract?

I know I am not well acquainted with this concept, but in my opinion, I am struggling to see the point: by the time you open your twitter client, type your message, hashtag it, check it for errors, realise you’ve gone over the character limit, edit and send – you’ve missed an important plot point, a memorable performance from one of the hard working actors on stage, and you’ve distracted the person beside you with your phone’s blinding white light.

Really, unless the piece of theatre in question has been specifically created to be interactive via social media, why would there be any need for patrons of the show to live tweet about what they see? [And, just quietly, I think that would be a really interesting experiment, but it would need to be part of the show].

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Theatre is not like sport – the show is always going to end the same way. Yes, there may be subtle differences during the performance from night to night, but unless we’re in a choose-your-own-adventure show, the run time will be the same, the plot and script will be the same, and the outcome will be the same.

So how, would tweeting during the show be of any interest to anyone? (except perhaps the actors reading the tweets in the dressing room, or the tweeters themselves, who are satisfying their itch to play with their smartphone every 30 seconds).

Jane just finished monologue in #xyz and seemed to stumble on last words. Oops. #livetheatre

Sitting in front row and a bit of spittle landed on my iPhone screen during the intricate vocal rally onstage. Shame i’m writing this and not paying attention to the show…

Ok. Lol. So she dies in the end! #justgaveawaythewholestory

As a performer, one of the most distracting and disconcerting things to see during a performance is an illuminated face in the distance. There is nothing subtle about using your mobile phone in the theatre – especially from a performer’s perspective. It’s rude. Hugh Jackman thinks so, Patti Lu Pone thinks so.

As an audience member, part of the charm of the theatre is to be transported to another place other than your own reality. To suspend your disbelief for a few hours while you empathise with the characters on stage before you. To discuss the piece with your peers after the work has concluded and after you have taken in all the necessary information needed to process the show…

At the train station yesterday, my partner took a photo of the people on his platform waiting for the train. 7 people with their heads bent at 45 degrees, looking at their iPhones. It was horrifying. We use our phones enough as it is  – do we really need them in the theatre too?

What do you think? Should live tweeting be allowed in the theatre? What purpose would it serve? Leave your comments below…



Erin James

Erin James is's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

7 thoughts on “Mad World: Twitter in the Theatre?

  • I think there is a time and place. Mid-performance is NEITHER. Interval, after the show, what ever, but during? No Way

  • I mean c’mon!!! Audience goers should be engaged, moved or even changed by their experience in the theatre. If you’d rather be on your phone, commenting on actors performances rather than engaging with them, you shouldn’t have come.

  • IMHO mobile phone use during a performance is rude to both the actors onstage and the other members of the audience – please leave the lighting to the lighting director and sound to the company and orchestra to make.

  • I think this is a preposterous notion.  Erin, you make an excellent and valid point: the theatre is a place to leave the outside world behind, and be taken on a journey.  There is a time and place for social media – the theatre is not a venue that lends itself to such.  Part of the excellency and refinement of this craft is the audiences engagement, and the give and take of everyone engaged, onstage and off.  The theatre exists for the audience as much as for anyone else involved in the actual production.  A family of 4 theatre goers can spend up to nearly $500 dollars to attend a night of professionally produced theatre.  What if an actor had a notion to stop the action to tweet “omg – totally just remembered Im out of gin – fml”, or better yet “wow – can’t believe how many people are on their phones right now, it’s a sea of screen-lit-faces tonight at the Malthouse.”  I reckon any number of those patrons who shelled out a small-fortune for tickets would feel cheated, and ripped off.  I’d like to see that survey.  Same with movie theatres.  How bout in the middle of the action, or the moment before the big-kiss, we pause the film, turn up the house-lights and announce “this is your 30 second email, and tweet break…”  See, that seems laughable, doesn’t it?  No sensible businessperson would make those sorts of concessions, because it’s inappropriate!  Preposterous, even.  


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