Last night was the first Guardian Twitter night. It took place during a showing of the West Yorkshire Playhouse's current production of 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof'. The idea: to get an audience to tweet their comments (in the interval) on the theatre production they are watching. Pretty straight forward. There was also an after-show discussion with the director, three of the principle actors and Andrew Dickson from the Guardian.
A ‘Tweet Night’ is a simple enough idea and one, of course, that has existed for years on an ad hoc basis. The innovation is the ‘agreed-upon’ hashtag (in this case, #catreview) and the organised encouragement for people to get involved with the tweeting. The thrust behind making a night of it is to generate a sense of Twitter buzz around a single performance of a production.
I enjoyed the evening (and the play, which is exceptional) but I had a few comments and questions about the idea. I’d love to hear your thoughts, too.
1) It was pointed out (very eloquently) by Jamie Parker (Brick Pollitt) that when you’re in the theatre, one of the aims of the company is to essentially ‘block out’ conscious thought in the audience. Therefore, and to be very specific, if you’re thinking about what you’re going to tweet, you can’t be fully immersed in what’s happening on stage.
This was my second viewing of this outstanding production and, I have to admit, I was sometimes concentrating on formulating an intelligent-sounding tweet rather than allowing myself to get lost in the moments of the play.
2) One of the things I consider exciting about Twitter is the ‘this is happening NOW' factor when witnessing some event or spectacle or (even) TV show. You'll know the strange, mild panic of tweeting something as fast as possible in response to what you're seeing in order to get there first and in order to avoid being 'last second's news'. Which means that, if this is to work, the tweeting would have to take place during the performance. A horrible thought. But, sadly, I can conceive of this being allowed in theatres in the future. (NB: It must not be allowed to happen)
You may think “What’s wrong with the interval?" Well, the problem with the interval is that you have just enough time to get your tweets written and sent out and almost no time at all to digest what others are saying (unlike, say, conversation at the bar). On this occasion, I was at the theatre alone. Which meant I had more time to stare at my iPhone in a corner looking entirely dedicated to the pursuit of being anti-social.
But, under normal, social circumstances, I’d simply abandon Twitter for, you know, real people who I can see and who can buy me drinks, etc. Who are the tweets for if the people in the room are the people using the hashtag? Who else would be interested in following a discussion that, on the whole, they’re unable to form an opinion on? Or are these tiny slivers of criticism intended to help form opinions and inspire potential punters to attend?
3) The night led me to think that theatres should do more to advertise hashtags. That is, if you want this kind of discussion, there’s no need for a special evening but, simply, having lots of large (enough) signs around the foyer with #CATREVIEW would get the message across and prompt post-event conversation. If I see that on the way out, I’m likely to use it if I decide to tweet about the experience.
The legacy of the #catreview tag will be interesting. I hope people continue to use it as the production comes to a close next week. But I hope that they use it because they feel compelled to comment and correspond and not because a specific night was allocated for the purpose.
Incidentally, the after-show discussion was great. The actors (Zoe Boyle, Jamie Parker, Richard Cordery) and director (Sarah Esdaile) were incredibly warm, open and interesting and Andrew Dickson asked some solid questions. The company’s opinions seemed entirely polarised on the uses of social media and the ‘usefulness’ of reviews in general. More of these kinds of talkbacks, please…
What are your thoughts on this? Were you at the event? Please leave a comment below.
(PS: My full review of the play for Leeds List is here)