Audiences keep it short and tweet

Originally published in Cue.

Social media and mobile devices are quickly becoming a permanent fixture in everyday life. We share every facet of ourselves with the world, including what we had for breakfast, who our friends are, and our likes and dislikes. This complete integration of the digital has the potential to change how we watch and engage with performances.

Comedian Siv Ngesi, who regularly uses his Twitter account to interact with his fans, is all for allowing the audience to tweet during his show. “A lot of comedy shows now have someone in the audience and someone backstage live-tweeting. I don’t mind at all if people tweet during my show.”

Fellow comedian Martin Evans disagrees with Ngesi: “Twitter is a great space for engagement, but it has to be used in the right space and time.” He also points out that the 50-word reviews in Cue hold far more power than the 140 characters of a tweet. “I once got a bad review and it reduced my audience, while some guy tweeting ‘I didn’t like this joke’ just had 10 of my other followers tweeting back at him and telling him how wrong he was.”

Twitter is also often used by journalists as both a note-taking method and a way of breaking a story as quickly as possible. Barry Bateman, Pretoria correspondent for Eyewitness News, is one of the most well-known South African journalists on the social media platform. He thinks that Twitter definitely has the potential to improve reporting on an issue, but is not really suited towards covering a live performance.

“A performance is not merely a recital of what is being heard as cold facts, but it would include the way it’s delivered, the tone and speed of delivery, and body language,” said Bateman.

Mary Corrigall, Books Editor at the Sunday Independent, uses Twitter to share her gut reactions to pieces. She also shares links to her reviews. “I tend to think of tweets as headlines or posters. People can choose to either read the short piece or click through to read the larger story.”

Corrigall also believes that artists should be doing more to exploit how people process information through mobile devices and recorded media.

However, the National Arts Festival governs its audiences through traditional theatre etiquette, according to Artistic Director Ismail Mahomed: “No flash photography, no telephones, and all digital equipment must be switched off. We understand that people want to engage with the performance but the best time for this is afterwards.”

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