Praxis Theatre is currently on hiatus! Please find co-founders Aislinn Rose and Michael Wheeler at The Theatre Centre and SpiderWebShow, respectively.
March 25, 2011, by

Across the twitterverse

by Aislinn Rose

Last Friday, unbeknownst to the fine folks at Toronto’s The Only Cafe, they were host to a cross-country conversation between artists, theatre organizations and theatre lovers old and new.

The inspiration behind the Twitter chat came on March 10th, when I caught a discussion happening online about the Opening Night of Catalyst Theatre’s Production of Hunchback at Citadel Theatre in Edmonton. Catalyst and Citadel had invited the audience to “live tweet” the event, and they would be showing the tweets on a display screen with a program called Visible Tweets, as recommended by nearby Shell Theatre.  Shell has been live tweeting their shows since November, 2010 and they’ve found it to be a really effective way to get audiences excited about their events.

When I started following the assigned #yeghunchback hashtag, I caught the following tweet:

I joined the conversation, and asked @lindork what had brought her to the theatre that night, given that she was a self-confessed “theatre newbie”, and she told me it was mostly due to the number of tweets she had seen about it.

A few days later I asked @lindork (Linda Hoang), along with everyone responsible for tweeting for Catalyst, Citadel & Shell, to join me for a Twitter chat about the use of social media tools to develop new audiences, under the designated hashtag #auddev. After we spread the word about the chat, I was pleased to find we were being joined by companies and bloggers across the country, including (among many others) Montreal’s SideMart, Toronto’s Studio 180 and Crow’s Theatre, and the PuSh Festival in Vancouver.

You can catch up on the entire conversation here, with the transcript sent to me by @AudienceDevSpec‘s Shoshana Fanizza out of Boulder, Colorado, who regularly uses #auddev to keep in touch with the twitosphere about issues relating to arts organizations and audience development. I have synthesized some of the main talking points below, but I highly recommend taking a peak at the transcript just to get a better look at the enormous participation we had across Canada and in parts of the United States.

Live Tweeting During Performances:

When I asked participants for their views on allowing tweeting throughout the actual performances, there were definitely some mixed responses. Some thought this would be disrespectful to the actors performing, others thought it would mean the audience would be distracted from the show if they were focused on their smart phones, while some people thought it would be interesting to experiment with the possibilities:

@canadianstage‘s suggestion of live tweeting a dress rehearsal was a popular one, and @macdonaldfest also suggested tweeting a Q&A might be a good solution for involving the audience within the theatre without disrupting the performance. @morroandjasp took up the challenge immediately and offered to include a Twitter/Audience Q&A this week. I am pleased to report that I and a number of Friday’s participants spent a lovely part of Wednesday evening in conversation with Morro and Jasp, the creative team AND their audience after their performance at Theatre Passe Muraille. It was great fun for us, and I’d love to hear what the experience was like for the audience.

Who are you tweeting for?

Many people took this chat as an opportunity to express some frustrations with Twitter and Twitter users in general. There was commiseration over accounts used only for self-promotion, or retweeting everyone else’s content without adding anything to the conversation, and a general poopooing of Facebook pages linked to Twitter feeds where one automatically updates the other. Consensus seemed to be that they speak to different audiences and therefore require a different voice or style, and that your audience wants to feel you’re actually having a conversation with them, rather then just putting forward a constant stream of information and sales strategies. Do you have linked accounts? Would you consider changing them?

Who’s doing interesting things online? Who’s worth following?

We’re always trying to find out about interesting and innovative theatre companies trying new things both on and off the stage, so I asked for recommendations for companies doing great things with social media:

So I checked out Woolly Mammoth Theatre after the conversation, and I was indeed impressed. In the lead up to their presentation of Mike Daisy’s The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, they had staff members “reporting” from the sales lineups for the iPad2, and audience members could follow along via the hashtag #ShowUsYouriCrazy. They were also offering $0.99 tickets for one day only (the cost of the average Apple app) if you could arrive in person with a “Jobs (Apple)” Foursquare badge. Now, “Jobs (Apple)” + “Foursquare” means absolutely nothing to me, but it’s definitely the kind of thing I’d be willing to look into to see Mike Daisey for $0.99.

How to Handle Staffing & Twitter:

Well, this was a popular discussion, but yielded mostly questions and few answers. Looks like everyone’s still trying to figure this one out.

Has anyone found a solution they’d be willing to share with the group?

Twitter vs. Blogging:

An interesting debate:

Your thoughts?

Some post chat follow-up:

Amazingly, within a few hours of the conclusion of the chat, participant @SMLois had blogged about the event in a piece called On the Canadian Theatre Conversation:

“Today was, in my recollection, the first time that Canadian theatre artists have used twitter to have a nation-wide conversation about the role of social media – in fact – to have a nation-wide conversation about anything. Based on this conversation new relationships between companies and artists have been formed. And this gives me great hope.”

Like a number of other participants in the conversation, Lois was excited by the fact that this conversation was happening at all, and is looking forward to that conversation continuing. She’s also looking for Canadian theatre blogs from outside the main centres, so if you know of any not currently listed in our blogroll, please let us know.

My Chat with Linda:

On Wednesday night I also caught up with Linda (our “theatre newbie) to ask her a little more about her experience attending theatre for the first time. She told me it was intimidating at first, but she got comfortable once she had arrived and could start interacting with the tweets she saw on the display screen. I asked for her perspective on live tweeting during a performance because I knew she had wanted to tweet during Hunchback. I wanted to know if she thought she might get distracted if she were to tweet throughout a performance:

And as for her and her fellow theatre-newbie companion seeing more theatre?

Well, that’s a whole other conversation I think. Who’s in?

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  1. Nick May says:

    Loved taking part in this conversation. Social Media is a great way to encourage audience development, and I look forward to seeing it grow more in the upcoming months.

  2. Laura Hagglund says:

    Regarding “How to handle staffing”. A position concerned with Audience Development, our “under 30” ticketing program, and social media was created which is responsible for Twitter and other Marketing duties. I try to check in about 3x a day for 10 minutes or less, but I can’t always get to it. It’s hard to stay on top of the stream when you’re also juggling other responsibilities, but that’s how it’s handled here.

  3. rlaronde says:

    I’m in San Francisco this week and was just reading this: ( Apparently the SF Playhouse has a “quarantine” section for people who want to tweet during the show, which is kinda neat. Now, I think I’d be the sort of person waaaay too distracted by the world of cyberspace to engage adequately with the world of the play, but on the other hand I’d be interested in any piece that would allow me to participate directly in the performance of piece onstage by tweeting from the audience and having the performers react to that input. There’s the danger of it being gimmicky, of course,  but beyond that it might make for an interesting theatrical experience.

    In regards to audience development and marketing via the twitterverse… well… it sometimes seems like a bit of a circle jerk. Cross promotion is great and all, but the relentless “Congrats on your dress rehearsal/opening/good review/run/closing” from one theatre company to another can be a bit annoying. I’d rather the web and social media be used for actual discussion (thanks Praxis!) than just mindless promotion. Maybe twitter and SM can be used to to provide the audience with the sort of contextual materials we expect in the program. At least that way we’d have a chance to read it leisurely before the lights go down. 

  4. Megan Mooney says:

    I know I’m late to the game on this one (long boring story) but… I’m curious about the statement “Many people took this chat as an opportunity to express some frustrations with Twitter and Twitter users in general. There was commiseration over accounts used only for self-promotion, or retweeting everyone else’s content without adding anything to the conversation,” since this is something I think about a lot.

    Anyone who follows me on twitter knows that a huge percentage of my tweets are retweets of theatre-related stuff from across Canada. When a conversation piques my interest I join in (I’d have been all over the #auddev but for, well, the long story I wasn’t going to bore you with earlier) but the lion’s share of what I put out there are things that catch my eye about Canadian theatre.

    For instance, I re-tweeted things about this round-up of the #auddev talk, and I think I may have even managed to retweet a thing saying it was going to happen.

    I often wonder if that make my feed boring, but then if I haven’t been tweeting for a while I get notes from people asking where I am. Or, for instance, some arts council was asking for help on something at some point and I retweeted it. The next day I got an email from them to say thank you very much, and that 3 different people came forward to offer help citing my retweet as what had let them know the council needed the assistance.

    That said, if there were others retweeting everything they saw about theatre in Canada that seemed interesting, I’d probably back way off on my retweeting, because once you have multiple people retweeting everything their feeds look identical and there isn’t a point to it.

    Oh. Look. I think I managed to just ramble without adding any particular commentary or asking any specific question. Cool. That’s skill that is…