Before the show begins..... 6 December 2011 ......please make sure your mobile phones are switched ON.

The introduction of Tweet Seats at a variety of performances in the US has prompted a debate about whether or not there is a way of enhancing the live entertainment experience, and attracting new audiences, by encouraging live tweeting from selected areas of the auditorium. 

Although this is already happening prolifically and with a non detrimental effect in the relaxed, loud (though not always), strobe lit arena of the rock / pop show, it is hard to imagine anything more insulting than members of an audience being glued to their various devices during a symphony, ballet or play. Surely. I mean, really, what is the world coming to?

As a way of generating excitement before and after an event, tweeting can be a means of sharing an experience, of encouraging others to partake of it (or not) in the real world. This, I understand. But stories of audiences’ texting fingers moving faster than the solo violinists, of such a lack of engagement that they forget to acknowledge the efforts of performers on stage with any applause, and generally refusing to see anything if not through the eye of an iphone screen, fill me with sadness (and a little disgust). What is wrong with people?

I am so paranoid about turning my phone off at the theatre that I have a triple check system and I still worry that I haven’t done it properly to the point that I check again in the interval and have even been known to remove the battery. Once I had turned by phone on silent without realising that I had set my alarm incorrectly that morning (PM instead of AM) and it went off (a charming old fashioned bicycle bell ring that made me break out in a cold sweat) at the opera. Fortunately it was a particularly loud section in Parsifal and I was on an aisle seat with only my husband to glower at me by my side. Another less fortunate person’s phone went off at the climax of Peter Grimes at ENO and Stuart Skelton looked ready to commit murder as he took his bow before storming off.

Just last month in Guildford a phone rang and rang and rang and did not stop ringing at the very first preview of Propeller’s new production of Henry V just as Dugald Bruce-Lockhart was about to begin the Saint Crispin’s Day speech. He actually managed deliver the line ‘Turn it off!’ completely in character before bravely carrying on. After that you could have heard a pin drop.

So, a wee plea to anyone contemplating following suit on the Tweet Seats front – DON’T DO IT. It’s the thin edge of an impossibly large wedge that could rip the heart out of live performance, toss it into the ether, catch it between its teeth, chew it up and spit it out or swallow it whole. Sometimes 140 characters really aren’t enough to describe the thrill of great art, no matter how short your attention span.

Clair Chamberlain

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