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Tweet Seats 2: Théâtre de la Ville: Ionesco’s Rhinocéros

By UMS Lobby

Editor’s note: This season, UMS is launching a new pilot project: tweet seats. Read the complete project description and pre-interviews with participants here.

For the second tweet seats event, we saw Théâtre de la Ville: Ionesco’s Rhinocéros:

This week’s participants:

  • Paul Kitti, writer for iSPY magazine
  • Greg Baise, Detroit-based concert promoter, arts writer, and DJ
  • Leslie Stainton, U-M School of Public Health Findings magazine editor and umslobby.org contributor
  • Mark Clague, U-M Associate Professor of Musicology and UMS Board member
  • University of Michigan social media intern Mollye Rogel
  • Michael Kondziolka, UMS director of programming, scheduled to tweet at this event, was not able to participate. See his note about why below.

Read the whole tweet seats conversation here.

UMS: So, how did tweeting affect your experience of this performance?

Paul Kitti:  For this particular performance, tweeting was most often on the back burner for me. It was impossible to tweet without missing something, as the performance was in French with surtitles (and I only know about three words in French…) The outcome, which I expected, was that I enjoyed the play as well as the twitter conversation, but the dialogue I missed in the process left some holes in the experience.

Greg Baise: I found myself thinking of tweets, but waiting for lulls to post them. Some tweets got away because I was deep into the play. Initially I was concerned that my tweeting activity would be a distraction to others. It turns out it was more of a distraction to myself!

Mark Clague: I was surprised by the conversational quality of tweeting Rhinoceros. Since we were reacting to a provocative narrative characterized by inference, juxtaposition, and an epic sense of language that seemed immediately referential and symbolic, many of the tweets searched for meaning. I paid attention to the hashtag and responded to several of the other tweet experimenters, but also to a couple of friends who either attended or just reacted to my observations. One such interchange led to a couple rounds of comments and ultimately intractable disagreement in interpretation. I found myself musing on the disagreement for days afterward and discussing the show face-to-face with another friend to clarify my own understanding. I didn’t change my mind and still prefer a more open interpretation connected to contemporary events, but my commitment to that understanding is richer and deeper for the tweets. Another thing I liked is that a question occurred to me the next day and I could tweet @UMSNews to get my question answered — YES, the set was transported from Paris to Ann Arbor. Finally, I attended the play a second time the next night and did not tweet. My experience was different — I became aware of how many people were speaking French in the audience. I don’t speak French, but gradually improved my understanding of the actors as the play progressed. Also, I sat in row 8 or so close to the stage, rather than tweeting from the back of the balcony. The emotional intensity of the play was much higher sitting so much closer. I was engaged both nights: the first felt a bit more intellectual (tweeting the show in this situation felt like taking notes at an exciting lecture) while the second was more raw and emotional. I’m guessing that my experience on night #2 was richer for having “researched” the play the evening before.

Leslie Stainton: If anything, this second experience of tweeting only confirmed my earlier antipathy to the form (if that’s the right word). It probably didn’t help that I saw the show near the end of the work week and after a glass of wine, so the dim lights and French dialogue and stratospheric tweet seats combined to send me into a bit of a nap. I felt oddly detached from the performance, and I suspect part of that had to do with the isolation I now associate with tweeting live theater. You’re apart from the crowd, with your little black box and too-bright phone. The production itself was gorgeous, provocative, beautifully acted, deeply meaningful. Some of this came together for me at the end, when I really did wake up with a “pow” and suddenly wished I could see it again, without the filter of tweets, and certainly from a better seat than the ones we had. (Didn’t bother me nearly so much with Aspen-Santa Fe, but this production needed to be seen up close, I think.) What “stuck” from the experience is my realization that I don’t want to tweet again–as I said to someone on my way out, I’d prefer to keep my brain farts to myself next time. But thanks for the experiment, and thanks to UMS, as always, for going about this so intelligently and carefully. And thanks for making it possible for those who DO get something out of this medium to keep at it.

Michael Kondziolka: I bailed on my commitment to be a tweet seater last night.  Not because I didn’t want to try it out, but because if became clear that the General Manager of Théâtre de la Ville and the US tour producer of Rhinocéros wanted to sit with me at the opening night performance. I didn’t want to run the risk of offending anyone by creating a moment of “cultural misunderstanding.” After the show, I mentioned this to them both and they were, not surprisingly, first a little put off by the whole notion of tweet seats and, after more conversation, intrigued. I shared the tweet stream with them…and they seemed to like it. Interestingly, there seems to be very little commitment or conversation at the moment in Paris around the role of social media in connecting with audiences OR in building or attracting new audiences.  At least this seems to be the case at TdlV. The GM of TdlV wanted as much information on the topic as I could give him…clearly he knows that he needs to look at these issues very seriously. Imagining what the experience of tweeting during last night’s performance would have been like gives me a rash. The complexity of the show…the layers of meaning and metaphor embedded in the text….how that meaning is delivered through the force of the acting and physical performance…PLUS the reading of super-titles (my French is only so-so)…was a lot to take in and make sense of from time to time. The idea of another layer — the processing of my thoughts and experiences and transmitting them in real time on a little illuminated keypad with my thumbs in real time — might have sent me around the bend. But I am still willing to try at an upcoming show!!

UMS: What do you think makes for a performance “sticky” (the performance “sticks” in your memory months or years later)? Do you think live tweeting a performance make it more or less likely to be “sticky”?

Molly Roegel: The quality of a performance in terms of acting, directing, music and set design, makes it “sticky” for viewers, as well as the relevance to them and how much they can personally understand. Live tweeting made this performance far less sticky to me as I could not pay attention to the subtitles, Instagram, Twitter, and the actual performance in any sort of way that would have allowed me to get the full experience of the play. I greatly enjoyed live tweeting but it was definitely not conducive to gaining the full scope of the play.

Mark Clague: Tweeting Rhinoceros has certainly made the experience more memorable or “sticky” for me. Four days later I can remember specific lines of dialogue and the emotion of the play remains vivid. I’ve had several conversations about the play with friends inspired by my twitter exchanges and reviewed my tweets archived on Twitter.com to review the performance, which reminded me of several personal responses that had begun to fade. Tweeting the show is definitely a source of distraction — I’m watching my cell phone screen at times rather than the stage. However, it’s not like I avoided all distraction the next night when I wasn’t tweeting on assignment. For the most part, I found that tweeting enhanced my attention and put me in a mindset to parse and understand the show. If the purpose of art is to get us to think and to think in unexpected ways, Twitter seems (for me at least) to serve this goal.  If tweeting an art experience were to become more routine and typical, I wonder if some sort of compromise that takes the best of both my night 1 & 2 experience would be possible. One could tweet intermittently and engage with a broader conversation as the show inspired it. The brevity of Twitter leads to an immediacy and directness that might balance emotional reaction with analytical understanding.

Stay tuned for the next tweet seats event: Mariinsky Orchestra of St. Petersburg on Saturday, October 27.

How do you feel about using technology during live arts experiences?

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