Main Menu
August 26, 2011

How to hold a (successful) “tweet seats” event in the theater

[ Image: Stage Tweets ]

I highly recommend #intermissiontweets on a Friday night

Whether you are a firm believer, casually interested, or crazy-never-in-my-theater against, “Tweet Seats,” are being experimented with at venues across the world. The segmentation of specific seats in a venue to be used by people with their smartphones *during* performance is only a couple of years old, but has created two sharply divided groups. Let’s not debate either side here. For the purposes of this article, you’re considering doing a tweet seats-style event, and are looking for some best practices to make it work (and not tick off the other people in the audience much). I’m also going to assume that you have a good familiarity with Twitter, and have a #hashtag for your event, show, or organization.

The latest experience I’ve had like this went pretty well — I was sitting in the back row for David Mamet’s Oleanna along with nine other Twitterati. I didn’t get to meet everybody, but I did shake hands with the person next to me, and then tweeted to him and vice versa throughout the show. There wasn’t a moderator at this show (see below) and although I tried to get some stimulating conversation going, it didn’t take off for this particular performance. It was still fun, but not the rich experience others have described the close connection of live tweeting can create. Let’s explore ways to maximize this technology and experience.

Invite a group of savvy Twitter stage people

In any tweet-seat event, you need some folks who are Twitter pros to help lead the conversation. It’s likely you know who some of these people are — you may be one yourself. But it’s important to have a couple of trusted folks in the mix along with new folks — don’t just send out an email to your list telling the regular public about your tweet-seats event without stacking the deck with a few trusted folks who are friendly to you and know what they are doing (and can pitch in as Twitter ambassadors if the need presents itself). Participants should be told to get there 15 minutes before the house opens so that they can have at least 5 minutes of real handshakes and introductions (ideal for the folks who will be there 10 minutes late). Remind everyone that each tweet is a mini-critique. I tell folks to be specific about compliments but general about dislikes.

Secure the theater back row

This one is probably obvious. You need to stick folks in the back row so that the light from their screens doesn’t bother the rest of the audience. If your theater is general admission, you’ll need to secure these seats in advance with a card or tape or something so non-twitter folks looking for an easy escape from your theater don’t steal the spots. If done right, the rest of the audience will have no clue that there are active phones in the audience.

Silence the phones, dim the screens

Remind your cadre that they need to dim their screens to the lowest setting, silence their ringtones, and shut off their vibration alerts (we all know we can hear that in a quiet stage scene too.) Either tell folks to do it when they come in, tell them in the curtain speech, or of course tweet it with your #hashtag so that everyone can see it.

Have a tweet-seat moderator/facilitator

This may be the most important point. Somebody, somewhere, needs to be acting as a moderator, a facilitator, and/or a voice of calm reason. This person should be tweeting the whole time along with everybody else, but should be focusing on facilitating interesting discussion, asking questions about the plot or the character or the symbolism or the time period, or what it would feel like to be in that characters shoes in that time period, etc. They offer a catalyst to steer the conversation into intellectual areas. And they answer questions and support the overall experience. You need this. The person doesn’t have to be sitting in the audience too (I’ve seen the stage manager act in this role, or you could be doing it from home). But if you don’t have this, the conversation degenerates into class clowning, show-off tweets that cheapen the whole experience. Let me be clear that 1) you can’t control this sort of behavior and 2) the fact that Twitter is freeform is part of the experience. But you CAN provide the alternative of a stimulating extended-arts experience that makes clowning around the side feature and not the main show.

“Today, the back of the theater is on Twitter” — tell the crowd

You don’t want someone with a special chip on his or her shoulder approaching your Tweet-seaters and barking “Turn your damn phone off!” You should let your audience know that there are people in the back who have special permission to be there and to do that. Point out that they are back there as an experiment, take some credit and mention what a cutting-edge theatre company you are, and remind folks that they are back there so everybody else won’t be bothered. Point out that only folks in the back can use their smartphones, but that if people want to join in on the tweet seats experiment next time, to sign up outside at the concessions table or wherever, etc. With this knowledge in place, I’ve never seen a problem between the traditionalists and the new media camps in the venue.

Let me know if you have any specific questions and good luck — this can be really fun.With these systems in place, you’ll be able to truly test out a live-tweet theatrical event, and minimize stepping on anybody’s real (or virtual) toes.


Like this post? Please share it with others who you think might benefit from it, via the links below, and subscribe via email orRSS to receive future updates. Ron Evans is an arts marketing and consumer psychology researcher, and principal consultant Arts Marketing Consultants in Sunnyvale, CA, USA. He helps arts audiences increase their understanding, appreciation, and frequency of attendance through innovative uses of technology.

Have an opinion about the content of this post? Start or join the conversation on our Facebook page.;

Spot me at an upcoming conference? Come up and introduce yourself!