|The Cincinnati Symphony
Orchestra has tweet seats from which patrons can carry on what organizers call “digital
conversations” during concerts.
In Florida, the Palm Beach Opera set up a tweet section for a performance of “Madama
Butterfly.” Last month, The Public Theater in New York said via Twitter: “We
think we may be the first of the large theaters to do some Tweet Seats, don’t
know about smaller theaters.”
So what’s the deal with tweeting and texting in theaters? Are promoters
so desperate to attract younger audiences that they’re willing to risk
disrupting the experience for the majority of paying theatergoers? The answer,
in five characters, is “u bet.” Here’s a suggestion for the
Palm Beach Opera: Since you already have super titles to provide the English
translation, why not also display messages from the tweet seats? They could scroll
along during the show, the way CNN and Fox News Channel have been running distracting
viewer tweets across the bottom of the TV screen during presidential debates.
There’s plenty to learn via the thumbs of socially aware theatergoers.
For example, according to actual postings during a concert featuring works of
Mozart, furnished by the Cincinnati Symphony, withak53 wrote: “Music hall
looks a lot prettier from the top balcony.” And hippielunatic tweeted: “star
spangled banner always chokes me up a bit in music hall.”
It was in the film “Trains, Planes and Automobiles” that Steve
Martin said to John Candy, “You know, everything isn’t an anecdote.” He
advised, “Have a point. It makes it so much more interesting for the listener.”
But Mr. Martin’s quip was so 1987. Having a point doesn’t seem
to be important in today’s text-as-you-view entertainment scene. It’s
all about the experience and the moment. At sporting events — where, mercifully,
fans are not so easily bothered by the behavior of others in the crowd — texting
while rooting has become practically mandatory. Sportswriters routinely tweet
from the press box during games for the benefit of followers unable to wait for
the post-game blog.
Several players have been discovered tweeting during games, among them Chad
Ochocinco, who was once fined $25,000 by the N.F.L. for sending messages during
a Cincinnati Bengals game. What’s next? Plácido Domingo tweeting
from backstage at The Met that the conductor failed to keep up with him during “The
A cable-TV series coined a term for this before the advent of smartphones: “Short
Attention Span Theater.”
And once the tweeters become bored with Puccini, aren’t they likely
to fire up Words With Friends? How many in the “Madama Butterfly” audience
are really playing Angry Birds? Perhaps the real goal of frightened theater managers
is not so much to enhance the experience for the majority, for whom Mozart works
just fine without tweets from the balcony, but to make the time go faster for
those who barely tolerate the arts but may have purchased a ticket as, say, a
favor to their companion.
Or maybe it’s just for members of the Twitter-tethered community who
believe Mozart is best enjoyed in 140 notes.
(c) Peter Funt. This column originally appeared in The New York Times.