Theaters around the country have gradually allowed cell phone use during live stage performances, risking upsetting older patrons by needing to stay relevant and reach new audiences.
More theaters and performing arts groups are setting aside a few “tweet seats” in the back of the house for those who want to comment on show developments. The newspaper reported that organizations with tweet seats include Connecticut’s Norma Terris Theater, the Carolina Ballet in Raleigh, N.C. and Ohio’s Dayton Opera.
Meanwhile, a Seattle-area performing arts complex in development is even planning to encourage any and all patrons to send texts and to update their social media accounts while taking in a show. The Tateuchi Center in Bellevue, Wash., plans to open in 2014 with a 2,000-seat concert hall and a 250-seat cabaret space, and will sport a 12- to 14-foot antenna on its roof to improve cell reception.
Artists booked in the space can request a blanket ban on phone use, but the standing policy will be to allow “non-disruptive” smartphone activity — meaning no talking and perhaps requiring patrons to dim phones’ screen light.
“This is the wave of the future for the people we worry about attracting,” said John Haynes, the theater’s executive director, to the New York Times. “Simply forbidding it and embarrassing people is not the way to go.”
Older, more established venues, from New York’s Carnegie Hall to Washington’s Kennedy Center, ban cellphone use during performances, though they have been increasing their use of social media to engage audiences at other times.
Statistics from the National Endowment for the Arts finds that attendance for classical music concerts, in particular, is down by at least a third among younger audiences, most notably those under age 24. To cater to this segment, the Pacific Symphony recently held a “Tweet-cert,” encouraging audience members to tweet or text during an outdoor concert.
Apart from distracting performers and other patrons, a deeper concern is whether those messaging during a performance are gaining from the experience.
USA Today quoted one longtime Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra patron, who noted that at a recent performance, the orchestra’s tweet-seaters “didn’t even look up to applaud at the end of each selection. The fact that they were watching their handheld devices, they missed out on what was happening on the stage.”
Integrating both social media and live performance will likely take time to find the right approach. As John Haynes of the Tateuchi Center noted, “I don’t think this is something that changes overnight.”