Art Works Blog

#2TweetorNot2Tweet: David J. Loehr, 2amt

by David J. Loehr, editor and artistic director, 2amt

David J. Loehr. Photo by Heather Loehr Photography

I was always the one in the back of the class, passing notes and making jokes. If you follow my personal Twitter account (@dloehr), this will not surprise you.

Sure, I could follow along, read ahead, pay enough attention to keep the grades up. Looking back, I’ve been tweeting for decades. It serves as a conversation, a joke delivery system, a forum for quick banter, a way to connect. Apparently, I’d been waiting for Twitter all my life.

The #2amt hashtag proves that Twitter is more than just quips---it’s one of few hashtags that’s been active on a daily basis since it began three years ago. We maintain a “no promotion” policy---that keeps the focus on conversation and sharing information. There’s no “noise” on the tag, either---unrelated posts don’t pop up because that combination of letters doesn’t mean anything beyond the meaning we gave it. (The tag comes from “2 am theatre.”)

From day one, we’ve talked about tweet seats.

I regularly tweet during televised events like award shows, sports, SMASH. But those don’t require my full attention---I can always wind back to catch what I missed. (Or, increasingly in the case of SMASH, ignore until an original song starts up…) I also live-tweet during conferences like the recent TEDxBroadway---that’s stenography, sharing quotes beyond the room, taking notes for later.

As of today, I’m closing in on 125,000 tweets in 4.5 years, so it’s safe to say that I enjoy the medium.

But I don’t tweet during performances.

I get it---let’s have a conversation about the show during the show. But it doesn’t always work that way. We need to dabble in ethnography and look at how people actually use Twitter to see why.

Most go with a simple app or the Twitter website. This gives you a single firehose of every person, brand, organization, fake persona you follow. I’m a “power user.” That means I use TweetDeck on my desktop, but there are alternatives like HootSuite. These show columns and can work with multiple accounts. On my screen, I have five columns all the time, plus additional account columns as needed. Going mobile, I use TweetBot---this shows one column at a time, but switches easily between multiples.

Unless you’re in a closed environment---a focused list of people or a hashtag search---you’re going to see more than show-related tweets. I’ve been at conferences where chuckles rose at random, unrelated to the talk onstage---it was a cat video gone viral. There was one where as many people were snarking about the moderator’s lack of socks as were conversing about the talk. Maybe it’s George Takei’s latest “science funny,” maybe it’s another #UnnecessaryTheatreSequels meme. Either way, you’re going to see “noise.”

All too often, live-tweeted plays feature comments like “nice dress!” and “that’s got to hurt.” Just about every one features “what just happened?” several times over. I saw one that prompted, “I love when they use real office furniture. Makes it look real.” Yes, yes it does. So?

There’s this belief that live-tweeting means engagement. I know from my own experience, the more I’m tweeting, the less engaged I am. There’s also a belief that an audience watching a performance is passive. The only truly passive audience is one that’s unconscious. If your audience is gasping, laughing, crying, breathing, they’re actively involved in your performance. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Shows like One Man, Two Guv’nors and Death of a Salesman don’t need live-tweeting. (“He really died. I didn’t see that coming. #salesman”) So don’t force it. Instead, develop work that incorporates it, like e-geaux or dog & pony dc’s Killing Game. Expand how we can tell---and experience---stories through social media. Make it integral to the experience, not an afterthought.

Stop thinking of Twitter as a marketing tool. Start using it as a gateway to story and play.

Maybe then, we’ll stop passing notes and start playing along.

David J. Loehr is a playwright. He is the editor & artistic director at 2amt, and artist-in-residence with the Riverrun Theatre Company in Madison, Indiana. His work has appeared at the Capital Fringe, the Chicago Fringe, the NY Neo-Futurists, the One Minute Play Festival, South Carolina Repertory Company and Actors Theatre of Louisville. You can follow him on Twitter @dloehr and @2amt, and you can visit his websites: 2amt.com and davidjloehr.com.

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