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some thoughts about tweeting / texting etc. during performances, a topic which keeps cropping up all over the place, in real life, in conversation, online…
i’m not talking about doing it in discreet corner of the auditorium. it doesn’t really matter what you do in a discrete corner of the auditorium as long it doesn’t annoy your neighbours or set light to the building. I’m talking about doing it down the front.
if it’s a rowdy & comedic event it doesn’t matter if a member of the audience is using a typewriter. the same applies, to a lesser degree, if you’re being interviewed at a literary festival. much of your attention is directed at the interviewer and the two of you are sharing responsibility for the entertainment, so as long as the audience is listening and on your side that's all you need. but if you’re performing, if you’re really performing, and not in a rowdy comedic way, and particularly if you’re performing solo, then it’s a completely different situation.
one of the things I sometimes do is an hour’s monologue. remembering an hour of text without notes is not easy, let alone trying to do it well. if I’m mid-monologue and I see someone texting or brightly illuminated by the screen of an ipad then it’s profoundly off-putting. any performance is about connecting with people, about moving them in some way, about generating some kind of shared experience in the room. seeing someone a few metres away working on a keyboard is a bit like having them hold up a board saying ‘you are boring me to death’.
it’s not just a matter of etiquette. it can turn a performance into a psychological assault course. you can’t ignore someone doing that kind of thing. your eye catches them every time you look their way. it’s like trying to do your seven times table while someone whispers random numbers in your ear. it’s just plain difficult.
obviously the person with the phone / ipad could be tweeting / texting lovely things about the performance (though presumably they’re not that enthralled if they’ve decided to tweet instead). but from the stage it is impossible to tell the difference between someone typing ‘amazing event’ and someone recommending a hilarious video of a cat that can make toast, or indeed, telling everyone, ‘this evening is total shit’.
if you really want to sit near the front and write something down during a performance use paper. a good friend of mine always takes a notepad to the theatre and every so often she scribbles notes. it’s a measure of how closely and carefully she is watching and I think this is obvious to any of the performers who see her doing it.
forget the question of whether visible tweeting / texting is rude or not (it’s rude). what potential tweeters / texters should remember is that if they make the performer uncomfortable they are very possibly fucking up the performance everyone else is there to enjoy.
here endeth etc.