Art Works Blog

#2TweetorNot2Tweet: Leigh Chandler, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts

by Leigh Chandler, Director of Marketing and Communications, Flynn Center for the Performing Arts

Leigh Chandler. Photo by Frédéric Silberman

We’ve all seen it happen. The theater is dark, the performance is in progress, and suddenly, from the corner of your eye, there’s the glow of a mobile device.

Mobile devices at performances are here to stay. The question we have before us is whether to embrace them.

In November, I attended an arts marketing conference and first heard people talking about tweet seats. I was intrigued. The conversations were mostly along the lines of “we need to get younger people to performances,” which is certainly a goal at the Flynn. Knowing that people are already using their phones (even illicitly) at performances, it seemed like an interesting convergence.

Back at the Flynn, I started talking with colleagues about how we could try this---innovation and experimentation are an important part of our work. Burlington has a vibrant Twitter presence, and after some discussion, we decided to attempt tweet seats at a performance by guitarists David Hidalgo and Marc Ribot. Because it was a closed-balcony performance, we were able to open the balcony just for tweet-seaters, which prevented the glow of their devices from bothering other patrons. Plus, as a musical performance, tweeters wouldn’t need to keep their eyes on the stage at all times.

We reached out to about fifteen people who follow the Flynn on Twitter and are active users, offering a free seat in exchange for tweeting at the show. The daily and alt-weekly papers wrote articles about the experiment in advance, and we invited their arts critics to participate so they could see it firsthand.

Then came the night of the show: With very few guidelines---turn off all the sound on your device, dim the screen as much as possible, and use the #flynntweets hashtag---the tweets started flying. Sure, there were tweets about what it was like to tweet at the performance, but most were about the content of the show. Tweeters engaged with those sitting around them, as well as people not at the performance that were following #flynntweets.

When asked for feedback, most said it was a challenge to tweet and watch the performance at the same time. Obviously, this gets right to the heart of the controversy about tweeting during a live performance: distraction. One person remarked that she was unsure whether “to clap or finish tweeting” (clap, of course). Another noticed that phones stopped glowing during a particularly engaging song because people were entranced by the music. Overall, people appreciated being able to hear others’ perceptions of the show as it was happening, which added to the enjoyment, and potential understanding, of the performance.

Did tweet seats get younger people to the performance? Some were on the younger side, but I think the larger value of tweet seats is expanding the dialogue at the moment some people want it---during the performance itself. Tweet seats also widen the performance’s audience to those unable to attend. We’re going to continue with our #flynntweets pilot program, but only for performances where we can put tweeters in the balcony, so they don’t disturb other patrons. It’s time to embrace mobile devices, but within reason.

Check out the A Tale of #Flynntweets on Storify.

Leigh Chandler is the Director of Marketing and Communications at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington, Vermont.

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