Social media has completely changed how we communicate and experience the world, and similar changes in artistic experiences are inevitable. As performing arts organizations struggle to stay relevant and cultivate a rapidly changing audience, the use of social media for marketing and interaction are increasingly necessary. The style section of a local newspaper may not be the first place a potential patron will look for upcoming events and performances. Twitter and Facebook have become an excellent source of information regarding upcoming concerts, and an effective tool for patrons to interact with previously closed-off organizations, before and after a performance.
The question of using social media during a performance is obviously complicated. The dictionary defines an experience as “direct observation of, or participation in events as a basis of knowledge.” If a musical performance is meant to be an artistic experience, tweeting during a concert could potentially hinder the “direct observation” piece. In our constantly moving, hyper-connected culture, we sometimes sacrifice being present in the moment for communicating with our online circles about what we just read, heard, or attempted to experience.
I attended a chamber music performance recently which featured a Copland piece I haven’t heard in years. After being asked to contribute to this blog, I thought to myself during the performance, “What would I miss in the next phrase if I were engaging someone on Twitter about what I heard in the introduction?” While merely thinking about Twitter, I realized I had just missed one of my favorite points in the piece. If that had been my first exposure to it, that beautiful section may have become a lost moment in time. It is also a good idea to be perceptive to your surroundings and note that a smartphone screen immediately draws the eye in a dark hall and could detract from another patron’s experience. However, is a bright screen any more or less distracting than the sweet sounds of a cough drop wrapper?
There are certainly positive and practical applications for Twitter during a live performance. Some artists use it to interact and let the audience choose the encore. Major arts organizations designate live Tweeters among their staff to share program notes that the audience can follow during the show.
An outdoor concert may be a more appropriate venue for live tweeting than the Kennedy Center, but the element of removing yourself from the experience remains, if even for a moment to snap an Instagram of your ticket stub. You could be missing out on a potentially life-altering moment, but ultimately the artistic experience is yours to create, document, tweet, clap, or just listen.