NEWS FORUM How Tweet It Is….NOT!

Occasionally NETC NEWS, in addition to posting news ( auditions, productions, etc.), also offers opinion in our FORUM feature. So fasten your seat belts;  the NEWS editor is going on a rant.

A few months ago, I was in the audience in an intimate off-Broadway theatre, trying my best to follow a challenging piece carried entirely by two hard-working actors. Suddenly, one of the actors stepped out of character, pointed his finger at someone in the second or third row, and snapped, “STOP TEXTING!!” Somehow the actor managed to pick up the scene where he had stopped and the show continued. I thought I could dine out on this anecdote for some time to come, but , alas, the media, both  mainstream and e-stream, has run away with  my topic.  From the Boston Globe( to personal blogs ( the world of performance is a-twitter about being connected at all times to everything except the live performance being created and shared in  real space and time by artists who are breathing the same air as the audience.  Now. Here.

For those of us who consider live performance, be it music, dance or theatre, a great miracle of civilization the news that concert and theatre managers are marketing special areas of seating for the attention challenged is disturbing. (Bravo to Spiro Veloudis of Boston’s Lyric Stage who loudly corrects the misquotation attributed to him in the Globe—the Lyric will continue to ban all use of electronic devices.) The rationale for legitimizing this breach of civility is that theatre must attract a younger, hipper demographic, a new generation at ease with global connectivity. Tweeting during live performance is compared by some to the fun of Mystery Science Theatre 2000, with the constant meta-commentary filtering the experience of the film.  (The comparison escapes me; I don’t recall ever getting dressed up and paying $100 to view MST2k.)  After all, it is argued, the Met posts translations of foreign-language libretti and no one finds the text ribbon distracting. (But opera-goers this service better connects to audience to the perofrmance, and the light level is not a distraction.) Expecting others to be as engrossed in a live performance as you are, expecting the entire audience to support the concentration and preparation of the live performers is now fusty and “elitist.” What has heretofore been considered beyond vulgar is now lauded a democratic recognition of “grass roots.”  (And we all know what makes grass that green.  Ick.)

Overlooked in the socio-babble about generational differences in attention, etc., is the unique , soul-healing value of  attending fully to the event one is attending. At the risk of offending Brechtians among us, I assert that to voluntarily surrender not only one’s disbelief, but also one’s concern with the world outside the theatrical performance leads  to a world of connectivity with the present artists as well as time-travel to the world of Aeshylus or Shakespeare or O’Neill or Fugard.  Or even Brecht, that champion of alienation. I’d like to think that he would want his audience to use their intellectual remove to think about the issues of his text—not to check on the sports scores.

Instead of inviting our audiences to share a meaty performance by sitting at a well-prepared table, we are encouraging drive by tastings, gulped down in segments, skimping on context and heaping on the spicy bits. Indeed we may be creating a mirror of the worst of our contemporary world—over-fed, under-nourished, lacking in patience , a world where sound-bites replace aphorisms, and “whatever” has become an acceptable response.

Interaction being the word of the moment, the editor welcomes commentary on this rant at  Please label your message “NETC FORUM.”  Thanks.

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