Twittering On

Twittering On

26/05/09
Do you speak Twitter? Journalist Jo Caird looks at the way theatre is responding to the latest social networking phenomenon.

Google 'Twitter' and the name of your favourite theatre and there's a fairly good chance you'll find it. From industry heavyweights like the RSC to tiny operations such as the Finborough Theatre in London's Earl's Court, theatres and companies are jumping on the bandwagon. But does Twitter really have something new to offer venues, theatre-makers and audiences? How can what is essentially the Facebook status bar gone solo make any difference at all to an industry that is based on dedicated creative partnerships and the emotional impact of live drama?

 

The most common, and not very imaginative, use of Twitter by theatres is as a continuation of their usual marketing policies. Venues and companies Tweet with ticket offers, casting announcements or links to reviews and blog posts. The National Theatre is one of those using Twitter in this way, the marketing team describing what it does as 'pushing information outwards'.

 

They are keen however to use Twitter 'to expand and develop opportunities for our audiences to interact with the NT', mimicking exactly the thing that a lot of smaller venues and companies are already doing successfully. These companies recognize that what Twitter offers is two-way communication and involvement. 

 

Simon Bedford, who does PR and marketing for touring company Hoipolloi, sees Twitter as 'a great way of helping to connect more directly with audiences'. 'The company's work', he says, 'is all about connecting with people and engaging with them' and Twitter is an extension of that.

 

Charlotte Edge of the Southwark Playhouse agrees. Their Twitter site is 'more about backstage news. It's a gossip thing, what's happening in the office. It's a way to try and make us feel human and friendly, even though it's something we're doing electronically, a way to give added value to audiences that already know us and pay them back for their loyalty and develop that connection'.

 

There is also potential for venues to reach new audiences via Twitter. Frances Mayhew at Wilton's Music Hall uses Twitter's search function to actively seek out people who might be interested in the sort of work the venue is doing. She also searches for 'like-minded organisations', using the site to keep tabs on 'what's going on out there'. She sees Wilton's Twitter relationships with other organisations as 'potential opportunities' for 'partnerships' or 'exchanges of ideas', but says that it is early days and so far nothing like this has taken place.

 

Some venues however are sceptical of how this would work. Sam Preston, who is in charge of marketing at The Watermill Theatre, Newbury, feels that because the theatre produces all its own work and neither tours its shows nor receives tours, there is little to gain from engaging with other venues via Twitter. Ewan Thomson, who does PR and marketing for The Bush, is equally doubtful. His concerns however are to do with the fundamentals of how Twitter works: 'How would Twitter ever replace phone or face-to-face discussions?'

 

A fair question. Tweets are limited to just 140 characters after all: hardly enough for small talk and certainly not enough to discuss collaborations or projects at length. But they can work as a starting point and lead to bigger things. Pilot Theatre, York Theatre Royal's resident touring company, attributes several recent partnerships directly to Twitter, including finding international speakers for a theatre conference that they are hosting in June and arranging for an MA student from Warwick University to join Pilot as an intern. Marcus Romer, the company's artistic director says that the site 'allows people to connect, communicate and have conversations that they wouldn't ordinarily have'. Most excitingly perhaps they are 'working on a user-generated content piece which people can help to shape'.

 

It's still early days and a lot of theatre companies are still uncertain about how to use Twitter most effectively, but there is undoubtedly huge potential here. Whether you want to be kept up-to-date of last minute ticket offers, ask a member of the creative team why they made a particular artistic choice, or even be involved in the way a company puts together a project, Twitter is a whole new way for people to talk about theatre. So get Tweeting.

 

-Jo Caird

 

Photo by Allie's Dad courtesy of Flickr

 

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