Tweedle-dee-Tweet!


Yesterday, over at Portland Mercury's Blogtown, Alison Hallett posted a story, "New Media Meets an Old Medium," about Portland Center Stage's adoption of novel audience development strategies. Among that company's latest innovations is a plan to set aside the balcony of the Saturday, January 19th performance of Nancy Keystone's Apollo for Twitterers (Tweeters?) who have something to say that can't wait until the show is over.

One of Culture Shock's infrequent (damn it!) contributors works as top shill for Center Stage, so congratulations to her for a bold experiment that may shake up the traditionalists and cause some pulling of blue hair. Perhaps this is more than a ploy to peddle plays to the youngsters; could it instead be part of Apollo's multimedia approach to storytelling (which PCS describes as a "kaleidoscopic array of theatrical methods")? Perhaps Ms. Fuhrman will share her perspective.

I'm no Luddite. I've moved beyond scoffing at the microblogging phenomenon fueled by Twitter. I can see its value in staying connected with friends and for sharing news rapidly. I got a kick out of following live blogs while simultaneously watching election debates on TV. I post status reports on Facebook from time-to-time. And, here I am blathering online. Still, it escapes me why someone would feel compelled to post notes to friends while watching a performance. Unless, I suppose, you're like on a field trip in sixth grade ...and you're sitting near that cute girl whose hair smells like green apples and soap ...and OMG she keeps looking this way ....and this play is soooo boring ...

Whatever it takes to get an audience into theater seats is fine by me, as long as the house isn't suffused with the light of glowing screens and the pitter-patter of textidigitation™. Ms. Hallet writes this about her non-theater-going friends who struggle to pay attention while watching a play:
To some extent, I think audiences weaned on stories told via the cuts and closeups of television and film find the relatively static medium of theater fundamentally unengaging. Offering them a new way to interact with theater makes a lot of sense, if those are the audience members you want to attract.

I don't buy the argument that audiences who grew up in the digital age are incapable of paying attention beyond short spurts. Members of the digital generation may be more adept at juggling multiple modes of communication, but that doesn't mean they can't sit still for a two hour play. There will always be a segment of the populace that can't bear to sit through a live performance ("Great Zeus! I'd rather drink hemlock than watch another minute of Ἑπτά ἐπί Θήβας! Can we leave at intermission?"). Let's not give them the A.D.D. defense; instead, let's just acknowledge that some people don't know HOW to watch a play (or a dance performance or a symphony concert) while others simply don't enjoy the experience.

We're not going to attract a younger audience if the plays we produce are not relevant and engaging, but factors such as time and money certainly matter too. And, I'm convinced that a huge determinant of whether someone becomes an arts patron (or an artist, for that matter), is whether he or she experienced the performing arts at an early age.

What's your take on this? Please discuss and share.

Ms. Hallett also posted a link to an article in the L.A. Times regarding the graying of the performing arts audience--an article on which I commented when it ran three months ago.

Speaking of Blogtown, I wonder if Blogtown would consider listing Culture Shock as a site that Blogtown likes? After all, Culture Shock has listed Blogtown as one of its favorite for a long time.

UPDATE: Ms. Hallett's post is now followed by a perceptive perspective from Sojourn Theatre's Michael Rohd.

4 comments:

Alison Hallett said...

"I don't buy the argument that audiences who grew up in the digital age are incapable of paying attention beyond short spurts. Members of the digital generation may be more adept at juggling multiple modes of communication, but that doesn't mean they can't sit still for a two hour play. "

Just to clarify, I didn't mean to imply that youngsters like m'self are only satisfied when consuming twelve types of media simultaneously; rather that film is seen as a more effective storytelling medium, which engenders a "why bother?" attitude toward theater.

Anyway, thanks for the post! I'm not sure who to talk to about sidebar linkage, but I'll ask on Monday. Blogtown likes Culture Shock.

MightyToyCannon said...

Allison, you raise a point that I was thinking about after my post. While it may be true that someone is CAPABLE of sitting through a two-hour play, the more important question is whether they will WANT to (at least enough to devote the time and money to the task). I'm a long-time theater-goer and work in the field but, frankly, I'm often relieved to learn that a play's running time is only 70 minutes without intermission -- so I understand the "why bother" question.

culturejock said...

OK but what if it's a THREE AND A HALF HOUR PLAY? Does that change anything? ;)

This is an interesting discussion! I need to collect my thoughts and get back to you.

MightyToyCannon said...

CJ,

Be sure to go back over to Blogtown, where Alison has posted an update, as well as a nice bit of commentary from our other pal, Bob Hicks.

Twitterers: Make sure you've recharged your batteries before the three act play.