I started working in Houston’s Theater District at Society for the Performing Arts before Facebook was well, Facebook and the introduction of the iPhone. Android was still just a dream of the Open Handset Alliance. Being the early adopter that I am, I began testing the waters of Facebook and Twitter, trying to figure out how all this crazy stuff worked. All the while, my mind kept spinning around the question, ‘How could these emerging methods of connection and communication be integrated into the Theater District experience?’
As with many organizations during this time, the answers have not been easy to come by. The main conflict is the ages of the respective audiences. The group actively using social media on the internet and their phones is considerably younger than the audiences taking in performances at Jones Hall and the Wortham. The great fear for some patrons is the degradation of the theater experience like we have seen in our movie theaters. Others find the behavior of these tech happy people abhorrent, and too unsophisticated for the filigreed temples of the arts. Honestly? They’re right. Going to a performance is an experience between you and the artists. It is an intimate relationship that sometimes requires the full attention of the patron.
Imagine yourself locked in a passionate embrace of your significant other. They are holding you in their arms tightly, stroking your hair, nibbling at your ear. When, all of a sudden, he or she pulls out their phone to send a tweet. That moment is, as they say, spent. Now, with that same scenario, imagine if a stranger interrupted this moment to post your picture on Facebook? We’ll call this phenomenon Theaterus Interruptus.
This is not behavior anyone here at Schipul would be likely to encourage, however, we also see the strong need for a conversation about the use of social media and mobile phones within the construct of a night at the theater. In the coming weeks, I want to open up a dialog with arts patrons and enthusiasts about the use of social media in our performance spaces. I will introduce you to different sites and apps that I feel have great potential, and hopefully develop a set of rules we all can follow to help expand our enjoyment of the theater-going experience.