Orchestra hall tweet-seats debate raises vital questions

Posted on: March 15, 2013

Tuesday (3/12) on the Pacific Standard (California), Tom Jacobs writes “On the evening of November 18, in Mobile, Alabama, a young newspaper reporter named Robert McClendon sat through a performance by the Mobile Symphony Orchestra while quietly updating his Twitter feed. The program that night featured Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, a passionate work that put McClendon in a reflective state of mind. Those who prefer experiencing the classics without a running commentary are probably cringing right now. But McClendon wasn’t breaking the rules. On this particular fall evening, the Mobile Symphony was inaugurating its ‘tweet seats’—a row at the very back of the auditorium where patrons are welcome to text or tweet during the performance. … The rise of tweet seats is just one facet of a larger shift taking place in the performing arts—one that champions ‘audience engagement’ and, in the minds of critics, subtly denigrates ‘passive spectating.’ The new conventional wisdom is that it’s vital not just to put on the best show you can, but to give audiences the sort of intense, interactive, personal experience that makes them feel involved in the production. … The controversy raises a number of questions that are hard to answer: … Who, really, is more engaged? Is it the audience member holding a screen and responding to the action with his thumbs, or the one sitting silently in the dark with her eyes glued to the stage?”

Posted March 15, 2013