Art Works Blog

#2TweetorNot2Tweet: Howard Sherman

The Tweet and The Sour

by Howard Sherman

Howard Sherman. Photo by Joan Marcus

I’m not keen on “live-tweeting” at live performances. I’m not against tweeting at performances.

Equivocal enough for you?

The perpetual debate over live-tweeting, in play for at least a year, dredges up the same arguments. “When you live-tweet, you are not present.” “Can’t people put their phones down for even two hours?” “Why should I be disturbed by tapping or glowing screens?” I agree with all of these.

I am in middle-age, and remember the introduction of personal computers, portable computers, cell phones, digital music players, smart phones, and tablets, to name but a few. My patterns of consuming live entertainment were set in the era before most personal electronic communication was available, and in that, not so different from my parents, or audiences in preceding centuries.

Yet I am an avid tweeter, a moderate Facebooker, and, when there are live TV events, I often adopt the two-screen approach, shifting focus between TV and computer, looking up facts and tweeting commentary as I watch. I have live-tweeted talks and speeches in person, most recently TEDx Broadway this past week, yet I have no desire to do this during a play or concert. However, those raised in more recent years, with this technology commonplace, may find it perfectly natural. Who am I to say?

If arts groups can accommodate live tweeters in a manner where their actions in no way impinge upon other attendees or the performers, why not let these experiments play out? If we are Luddites, we risk losing future audiences, which we can ill afford, and hypocrites for saying we want to reach them, but only on our own rigid terms.

Over the years, I can recall disdainful and exclusionary complaints about the introduction of supertitles at operas, sign-language interpreted and open captioned performances, and other such “intrusions.” Thirty years ago, people were startled when I wore jeans to the theater; now shorts are not uncommon in warmer months. Times change.

I will always hold the performance paramount and I hope I will also welcome innovation. Technology will soon make the crude method of live-tweeting obsolete, with elegant, unobtrusive interactivity flawlessly executed, in ways we can’t yet imagine. So for now, as long it doesn’t affect others, I choose to support exploration.

I would rather have people at live performances dividing their attention if they must, instead of not being there at all.

Howard Sherman has held executive and senior staff positions at the American Theatre Wing, Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Geva Theatre, Goodspeed Musicals and Hartford Stage. He currently consults for arts groups and has written about the arts for the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, HowlRound, and American Theatre and is a columnist for The Stage in London. He blogs at hesherman.com and tweets as @hesherman

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