IMTALAP Article – Twitter in Museum Theatre

Ideas for using Twitter in Museum Theatre

This article was original published in the newsletter of the International Museum Theatre Alliance – Asia Pacific (IMTALAP).

Last weekend I tried to explain to my Mum, Uncles, Aunt and 92 year-old Grandma the value of Twitter.  It was so hard.  I was met with many sceptical looks or polite smile-and-nods.  The truth is that Twitter’s power and value is difficult to explain in theory, it needs to be experienced.  It needs to be experienced over a fair amount of time.

I’ve been making a concerted effort to ‘learn’ Twitter since July last year, and it’s only been in the last three months that I’ve really come to appreciate and vouch for it’s worth.  If you’re keen to work productively with Twitter, and I will argue that’s a very worthwhile pursuit, then I recommend giving yourself a good amount of time to play first.

Contrary to a popular belief, Twitter is not about sharing what you had for lunch.  Sure there are many teenagers that use the 140-character news feed as an opportunity to broadcast their undying love for One Direction every few minutes.  But rarely will you actually experience this, unless you habitually follow #1D.  Twitter is about offering another layer to connect and share ideas.  It is a powerful mechanism to learn, understand and participate.

Museum Theatre is about engagement, interpretation and exploring ideas.  Twitter can support you to promote your work, engage and involved your audience, and offer a deeper level of connection with the story you are trying to share.   It can make performances more open, accessible, collaborative and enduring.  It can transform a lecture into a collaborative workshop.

Twitter has the potential to fundamentally change the way we deliver our craft, but at a simpler (and less frightening) level it can work as a tool to value add to our performances.  The following ideas aim to suggest the scope of Twitter, from simple ideas to complex ones.

Value Add

  • Encourage Twitter conversations during your performances.  Although it can be disconcerting for a performer to see the audience staring at their laps, it is UNlikely they are being disrespectful.  In fact, there is a high chance they are engaging with your performance in a very powerful way.  They are not simply absorbing it, they are asking questions, sharing thoughts and emotions, seeking an understanding, or sharing their experience.

There is a good chance you will better engage young audiences if you encourage them to share their thoughts during performances.  You don’t have to be on Twitter to do this one.  You can suggest a hashtag (tag to identify the topic/event they are talking about) on the program or flyer – just do a quick search on Twitter to check it isn’t discussing something else!

If you don’t want to encourage Tweeting all performance long, consider having Twitter questions.  A time when you ask the audience a though-provoking question and encourage them to discuss their thoughts on Twitter.

  • Add another layer of information to the topic of your performance.  Hopefully when an audience watches a museum theatre performance they leave with new ideas, questions and a desire to discover more.  Twitter can be used to feed into that interest.  Encourage the audience to ask questions, before or after, that you or the museum can respond to with links, pictures, videos etc.  Ask the audience to share how the performance related to them or their experience of the topic.  Encourage and promote dialogue between audience members.

Changing how we work

  • Encourage audience members and staff to take photos, even videos, and share them.  Some may feel that this may detract from being in the moment of the performance or that it may negatively affect ticket sales.  But it is more likely it will be the best promotion you ever did.  The power of social media and the value people place on the opinions of their friends cannot be underestimated… and it’s cost-free!  Also, sharing your performance will give you the potential to reach new and broad audiences.  We are all in the business of sharing culture, science, arts and ideas, so let’s share as far and wide as we can.
  • Use Twitter for audience interaction.  Consider having parts of your performance that use Twitter for the audience to take control of the performance.  Think theatre sports… get the audience to throw you a line, obstacle or new piece of information.  Have a feed running on a screen or a stage manager giving you a prompt.

This could work particularly well if you were performing to explain a new concept, for example a scientific idea.  Have the audience search the internet (or, even better, the museum’s website/catalogue), find an answer and explain to the character what they need to do next.  For example what the object/plant/animal is that they are looking at.

For these ideas to work a bit of pre-planning is necessary.  Tell the audience that you want them to use Twitter, plant a few active-participators at the beginning, and definitely check that your performance venue has Wifi or at least 3G service available.

Have a go.  Get on Twitter and play, share, discuss and learn new things.  And share your ideas, successes and failures with other IMTALers.  If nothing else, Twitter is a great platform for collegiate professional development!

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