@Fest To tweet or not to tweet?

To tweet or not to tweet?

Social media is a key tool in engaging with the National Arts Festival. But, are selfies taken during performances acceptable? Can you watch a play while live tweeting it?

“Fucking go for it,” says Jemma Kahn. “As theatre makers, we can’t demand how the audience behaves.” Kahn features in The Epicene Butcher and Amateur Hour! at this year’s National Arts Festival. Both productions, Kahn explains, are created for “the YouTube generation” as they are collections of short, visual stories. “That’s how our brains work now.”

Other performers believe proper theatre etiquette should remain. Nicola Elliott, the 2014 Standard Bank Young Artist for Dance, thinks the current habit of Instagramming almost everything and live tweeting is inappropriate in the theatre context. “Live theatre performance requires that you’re present and in the room. It [social media] definitely disturbs the experience of people in the theatre”. According to Elliott, selfies and tweeting are more suited to music concerts than theatre. “Theatre requires a different focus. You’ll get a whole lot more out of it if you leave your phone in your pocket.”

“While we encourage the dialogue to happen on social media, obviously there’s a rule in most performances that you’re asked to switch your phones off,” says Tony Lankester, National Arts Festival CEO.

Social media marketing

“Our biggest marketing push at the moment comes through Facebook and Twitter,” he adds, “It’s a platform for a dialogue between our audience and us, and our artists”. Social media enables audience members to engage critically with performances and performers, he says.“The creative process our artists go through has become a lot more collaborative with social media.”

Kahn uses Twitter to connect with other artists and explain her creative process to the audience. “It’s nice to know people are engaging,” she says. Posters are too expensive and technical for her to create, so she uses Twitter for marketing.

“The one risk of social media is that it can impinge on an artist’s copyright,” Lankester says. Audiences are asked to switch off their cell phones because of this concern and not simply electronic interference. “It’s this delicate balance. It’s [social media] not a substitute for the work itself. Watching a play is an intensely moving experience and that can’t be replicated very easily on the screen”.

For now social media is a marketing and networking tool. Unless the artist states otherwise, refrain from tweeting, instagramming or uploading Vines. And, if you’re watching a Jemma Kahn production, then “fucking go for it”.


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