Sunday, 25 March 2012

Kate's Rant on Tweeting in the Theatre, March 25, 2012

TWEET AGAIN and I'll break your phone!!

YEAH, NOW I'M REALLY ANGRY! I cannot believe that, even in the theatre, we are now catering to people who cannot live their lives without being attached to their 'smart' phones or connected to their thousands of 'friends' or associated 'twits' by facebook or twitter.

This week, we hear that La Mama and Malthouse are allowing audience members to tweet during shows. La Mama has four FREE seats for tweeters during the RAT season, while Malthouse is planning to trial tweeting soon.

This move seems to be based on the revolutionary efforts of Ken Davenport, producer of the Broadway revival of Godspell, to increase his show’s public profile amongst the audience of tweeters who are, on average in USA, 21 years old, he says. (I am advised by  Howard Sherman, that this discussion started in 2011 in the US.)

So is it not enough that audience members can tweet the moment they switch their phones back on after a show or even in the interval, they must be allowed, like children with their new Chrissie toy, to send idiotic, truncated messages to their pals and the rest of the world?

Davenport suggests that it is a way of bringing the theatre into the 21st century, but it is mainly a cheap way for companies to market their shows or get fast publicity.

Did anyone notice that the tweeters (in Ken's Godspell audience) are looking at their phones and not at the stage when they are tweeting? They are ignoring your show in order to tweet about the show that they are not watching.

Going to the theatre involves paying attention to the performers during the allotted performance time, giving them the courtesy of watching and listening even if you are thinking that you’d like to tell your best friend – or the world – how much you love it or hate it.

Can we keep one place where your opinion is not important until after the event is over? I’ve been writing about, or for the theatre for nearly 20 years, and what I think only becomes important once I leave the venue.

How about we have ad breaks during shows? Why don’t theatre artists create shows that run in 5 minute vignettes so everyone can get on with the important work of informing people who aren’t in attendance every detail of what the tweeter is watching, doing or thinking?

I’ve been in a show audience with school kids (Romeo & Juliet by Bell Shakespeare) and, despite the cast announcing that audience must turn off their phones, the kids persisted in checking messages and texting beside me.

Not only is it disrespectful to the artists, it distracts audience members around them with the phone light, the tapping the constant wriggling and lack of attention.

To those who have the attention span of a gnat or think that the universe revolves around their every painfully banal thought and comment, please stay home! I’m sick of indulging the egocentric needs of those who believe that they are the centre of the universe.

We are still fighting with those who can’t remember to turn off their phones (at least this can be unintentional) or who answer calls in shows, or take photos of actors with their phones, or film shows with their phones.

I like Stacey Keach’s idea that phones should be checked at the door to the theatre, just as it was with side arms in the Wild West when guns were checked at the salon door. They’re weapons of mass destruction for the theatre.

If you need to be engaged in a conversation during a show, or suffer trauma when you are out of contact with the world, then stay home and watch a movie or go to a bar and watch a band.

Maybe you could watch 2 minute grabs of plays in Youtube and then tweet your friends about that?

Really, who cares what the 20 year-old in the back row tweets?

Kate Herbert


This entry was not written as an arts article. It was a quick response that I call a Rant, with all the accompanying vehement assertions and irritating biases. Evidently, some people consider it a personal affront. Apologies for that. I hope some of you will read my other considered and informed reviews that are lodged on this blog. 

Perhaps I'll keep my Rants to myself - but they garner such interesting and entertaining reactions.

I corrected the typo that called Ken Davenport 'Ian'. Apologies Ken. The interview I saw with him described him as 'director', but my net search indicated that he was producer and I am advised by Howard Sherman that he is definitely producer of this revival. Thank you.

To those who are ranting back at me, it is the notion of people tweeting during theatre performances that I am objecting to in this piece. I am not objecting to tweeting in general. 

I have not stated that only 21 year olds tweet, nor that all 21 year olds tweet. I refer to the statements by Ken Davenport that his research indicates that the average age of tweeters in the US is 21.


  1. Once again, lovely to be part of a generation which is solely characterised as "having the attention spans of gnats." Really great. It's not like we, you know, have jobs or degrees or do anything in our lives in spaces of time more than five minutes long, what with all of the text messaging and tweeting we must constantly do. Certainly could never work in theatre: how would we find the time to look up from our screens?

    But I'm only commenting to let you know the Broadway producer's name is Ken Davenport. How that managed to stick in my head with my lack of attention span escapes me, but there you go.

  2. If you think that schools audiences would be any less irritating, restless or obnoxious without phones, you're severely deluded. That's just teenagers.

    As a front of house worker of some years I can tell you that the worst offenders re: phones going off are by far over-40s who aren't all that good at turning the ringer off 100%

    I also find your generalisations regarding people of my age extremely offensive and extremely lazy as writing.

    But then of course you do write for the Hun, so I shouldn't be surprised.

  3. The concept of so-called Tweet Seats - a concept created in the USA, of course - where the technorati can spread their 140 character pearls of wisdom to their hungry audiences from the theatre, is one of the most absurd and offensive that I have come across for some time. Come on, give us all a break with this nonsense, ok. Things are already out of hand in som many ways. Leave your goddam phones at home for once, people ... ok? Go on, it won't kill you.

  4. The concept of tweet seats, whatever you may think of them, hardly began in the U.S. with Godspell. That was only the first show on Broadway to try it. USA TODAY wrote of this back in December 2011, mentioning U.S. shows which had experimented prior to that.
    Davenport is the producer of the current Godspell revival. You can always check Broadway credits at

  5. People tweeting during performances is distracting as hell. And giving free seats to pre-show tweeters just encourages people to suck up to the theatre companies and/or artists in 140 characters or less. Of what possible value could that be to anyone? As if the publicity machine weren't big enough already.