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Summary:

In what purists see as capitulation to attention deficit disorder, several Boston theaters plan to offer special “tweet seats” for cell-phone wielding patrons. Boston is following in the footsteps of venues like the Palm Beach Opera and Norma Terris Theater that already breached the tweet/no-tweet divide.

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In what theater purists may see as capitulation to attention deficit disorder, several Boston area theaters plan to start offering special “tweet seats” for mobile-phone wielding patrons.

Where most theaters still demand that users turn off or at least silence their devices  during performances, The Lowell Memorial Auditorium, The Lyric Stage Company of Boston, Worcester’s Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts and Cambridge’s Central Square Theater, will all either offer Twitter-friendly seating or are considering that option, according to The Boston Globe. 

Critics worry that live bloggers will distract other audience members and performers. But a generation of consumers that have grown up using Twitter to post immediate,  brief reviews and updates on sporting events or TV shows may prove too strong a constituency to resist.

Boston is not a trailblazer here. Two years ago, The Lyric Opera of Kansas City reserved 100 tweet seats for its performances of Gilbert & Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore, according to the Los Angeles Times. Earlier this month, USA Today  reported that other theaters around the country including Norma Terris Theater in Chester, Conn., The Carolina Ballet in Raleigh, N.C., and Dayton Opera in Dayton, Ohio all offered Twitter-friendly seating at one point or the other.

The Palm Beach Opera actually solicited live bloggers for its December 15 final dress rehearsal of Madame Butterfly:

We are looking for people who are active on social media to attend the final dress rehearsal of an opera and tweet, Facebook, and/or blog throughout the whole thing.  We want your authentic opinions, thoughts, or maybe even play-by-plays of the action happening on the stage.  Basically, you’ll get tickets to come and see the opera on us in exchange for your social media posts.

This was a very controlled experiment, said Ceci Dadisman, director of marketing for the Palm Beach Opera, who vetted each of the potential tweeters.  The goal isn’t so much to sell tickets as to broaden awareness of the opera and reach  a younger generation of potential customers.  (The resulting Twitter thread is here.) Dadisman assessed each applicant to make sure he or she was a really active in the social networks. “We didn’t want people who were creating content, not just using Twitter to check in on Foursquare,” she said.

Dadisman and Elisa Hale, PR director for Goodspeed Musicals, the company  that runs the Goodspeed Opera House and the Norma Terris Theater,  agree that the goal is to generate more immediate word-of-mouth about productions.  Hale sees it as an additional way to spread the news on productions. “People still go out and talk about what they’ve seen but that can be a few days later and they’ll still do that. Twitter is more immediate and reaches beyond people you actually see,” she said.

Goodspeed will likely continue to offer Tweet seats, although they will probably be limited to the back row of the Norma Terris theater so as not to distract the non-connected patrons.  That theater, which tends to run more contemporary shows, is better set up to separate the tweeters from the non tweeters. The Goodspeed Opera House’s U-shaped rows would make that difficult, Hale said.

Some live performance venues including several in Canada, say they’ll buck any Twitterati-specific seating trend.  But, the tweet/no tweet divide may break down as ballet, opera and theater companies try to entice a younger, more web-inclined demographic.  It’s key to making classical performances more accessible to newbies, in much the same way New York’s Metropolitan Opera simulcasts select performances to HD-equipped theaters across the country is an attempt to woo new audiences.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user markhillary

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