I recently heard that one orchestra had their tuba player — who had little to play in a particular piece — tweet messages to audience members during the concert. That's one example of the new buzzword for the performing arts: engagement.
With smart phone constantly on, our new arts consumer (we’ll call him/her Chris, for unisex reasons) goes out into the world with at least two guises: Chris the Consumer and Chris the Reporter. Chris the Consumer buys the tickets. Chris the Reporter tells the world about the event on Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare. Nonstop. Before, during and after the experience. OMG.
We in the performing arts are now faced with a dilemma: how do we handle Chris the Reporter at, say, A Christmas Carol
after Chris the Consumer has purchased a ticket? Chris the Reporter wants to share that experience. With friends. While it’s happening. LOL.
We in the arts very much want Chris the Reporter to share the experience, especially if he is having an “awesome” time. We are far less inclined to welcome her using her smart phone appendage during the performance to do so. In fact, didn’t we insult Chris at the top of the performance by asking him to turn that phone off? :-(
The arts are by nature immersive and we ask patrons to give themselves over to the experience. Chris, the bifurcated patron, refuses to give up her Reporter persona. That’s part of Chris’ experience.
Artists and companies, we now hear, are amending their artistic product to accommodate our two Chrises. They’re offering shorter performances because Chris has a busy life and a shorter attention span than his parents or grandparents. And, frankly, understands story far more intuitively, so we can indeed cut to the chase.
But what do you cut from Fiddler on the Roof
without defying copyright laws? How do you incorporate cameras into The Nutcracker
set to give Chris close-ups on her smart phone that won’t damage the illusion of a 19th century world? How can characters in White Christmas
tweet from a post-World War II Vermont lodge without destroying the willing suspension of disbelief that underpins a whole world of theatrical literature?
Do we really need to rewire our understanding of artistic experiences because Chris wants electronic as well as visceral interconnectivity with a performance? IDK.
I know I’m becoming a curmudgeonly luddite, especially since I view my lower IQ phone as a necessary nuisance. I confess I don’t know how to deal with Chris as the house lights are dimming and he still wants to see that reassuring glow from his smart phone. I’d prefer to see Chris give her undivided attention to the performance and gush or bash later. Personally, I think Chris would enjoy it more. But I still read newspapers.
Where do you sit on this question? Do you want engagement opportunities at a performance, in Popejoy Hall
or anywhere else? What kind? What about before or after a performance? What kind of engagement do you want then?
Chris and I both want to know.
Terry S. Davis