Welcome to 2013, dear Minnesota Playlist readers. I’m taking over this weekly round-up of relevant local and national theater news tidbits for at least a couple of months. Pleased to make your acquaintance. Let’s jump right in, shall we?
There’s been a lot of buzz recently about the Guthrie offering designated “Tweet Seats” for four specific performances of The Servant of Two Masters in the balcony area of the McGuire Proscenium Stage. Despite the fact that this is hardly an original move on the Guthrie’s part (Ever been to a live MPR “Wits” show at the Fitzgerald? How about Mixed Blood, where they literally stream tweets including the current production’s hashtag on a TV monitor in the lobby?), the level of vitriol and outrage at the Guthrie’s move has been staggering, at least based on what I’ve gathered from (ironically enough) social media--which is the first place everyone flocks to bitch about social media. Even the reporting itself has tended toward the condescending and snobbish, as in this Huffington Post headline: “Minnesota Theater Offers 'Tweet Seats' To Smartphone Addicts.” A commenter on this MPR article about the program states that “if texting or tweeting occurred during a performance I paid for, I would ask for my money back” (causing me to wonder if s/he’s expending more energy on surveilling the audience and nursing a sense of righteous indignation than on watching the show in the first place). One person in my Facebook news feed simply posted a link to a news blurb about the Guthrie’s Tweet Seats, accompanied by “Fuck you, Guthrie. Fuck you.” In another comment string on a Facebook post about the Tweet Seats, someone wrote: “I can only hope the Tweet Seats are designed to secretly sterilize their occupants.”
I don’t understand the problem here. Mixed Blood started offering Tweet Seats over a year ago, and I don’t recall anything approaching this level of doom-and-gloom “there goes the culture” hand wringing, let alone people calling for forced sterilization. If anything, Mixed Blood is consistently (and deservedly) lauded for finding ways to make theater accessible and engaging on as many levels and to as diverse an audience as possible. What is so different about the Guthrie’s decision to follow suit (for four performances of one production) a year later? Sincere question here. Why all the hate?
For whatever it’s worth, my take on it is this: if someone sitting above and behind you, engaging silently with what they’re seeing onstage by quoting, responding to, or riffing on it via Twitter ruins your whole notion of What Theater Is, then I dunno…don’t turn around. There’s so much talk among theater folks about collaboration, accessibility, moving away from the elite, elderly, white audience, getting people re-engaged with live storytelling--then something like this comes along and those same people would rather see the theater burnt to the ground than someone tweeting in the back row. It strikes me as the same impulse that makes people defend “traditional marriage” and “proper English”: a desire to be prescriptive rather than descriptive; an ignorance of how things are always evolving, whether we like it or not; an instinct to limit the voices invited to the conversation. Throw the door open, I say. Audiences shouted at the stage during Shakespeare’s time. Let them do it with their thumbs now. Make a joyful noise, for god’s sake!
For an articulate counter-point, see Isaac Butler’s blog post on the topic. Isaac and I disagree on this, but I appreciate that his argument has more substance than knee-jerk outrage. And while I agree with his premise that attention in theater is important, as someone who has enjoyed performing for toddlers at the Children’s Theater, I would also suggest that the best attention isn’t always simply silent and receptive, but is engaged, responsive, and expressive in its own right.
One final tidbit on Tweet Seats before we move on. I asked Amanda White Thietje, Managing Director at Mixed Blood Theater, to tell me a little about why they decided to implement their Tweet Seat program a year ago, and what their experience with it has been. Here’s what she had to say:
“Tweet Seats at Mixed Blood are about access: access to the work on our stage, access to artistic process, access to a play's theme and content. Being 'radical' in our approach to hospitality means that we learn from our audience about how they want to engage with us, and we meet them there. Tweeters are our extended audience, as well; they are not just the people sitting in the House, but often remote guests who have profound social discomfort or anxiety, or a disability that prevents them from engaging with us in a 'traditional' way. Rather than attending in person, those guests are able to follow the conversation on Twitter. Mixed Blood offers seats during every performance of a play for those interested in using social media to engage with the stage--the official 'Tweet Seats' are offered for one performance, and are accompanied by a senior staff moderator who has dramaturgical access to the play. Artists and designers are made aware of Tweeters, and are asked to engage with audience questions and comments in real time as they see fit. Tweet Seats by themselves could be just a distraction--providing context through a moderator/s, additional content or conversation, and access to a play's creators is key to making them a value-added experience. Tweet Seats, and social media at large, is the opposite of limiting for live performance; technology is a wildly creative form, and I believe it's a very exciting one that will provide amazing opportunity for our audiences. Offering audiences curatorial access to our work is not revolutionary--it's another way in which Mixed Blood is learning to provide hospitality to the theatre's guests.”
More power to them, I say. And to anyone else who’s trying something new in an effort to engage current and prospective audience members in live theater.
(In case you're getting worried, it's highly unlikely that I'll be this verbose and opinionated about something theater-related every week. OK, moving on.)
HowlRound posted this yummy collection of quotes from various posts they published over the last year. Here’s one I like:
“Life doesn’t feel okay to me. It’s upsetting and ecstatic and tedious. Once I acknowledge that and stop trying to get comfortable, I get more curious. We can thrive in the discomfort of our multiplicity and complexity.”--City Council Meeting: Theater of Tiny Disjuncture by Aaron Landsman
The New Yorker has a wide-ranging and eclectic list for their best theater of 2012, which includes one production that also made it onto several local lists (Untitled Feminist Show): http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/12/hilton-als-my-year...
Hey triple threats, can you dance in cowboy boots? Looking for a way to avoid paying rent this summer? Consider auditioning for the Medora Musical on January 20th. How often can you say you’ve performed in a “stunning state-of –the-art 2800 seat outdoor Burning Hills Amphitheatre built on the side of a butte overlooking the Badlands?” Now’s your chance!
That's all for now. 'Til next week! Stay classy, Twin Cities.