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The Boston Globe

Opinion

Ed Siegel

Don’t set up the tweet seats

KIDS TODAY. They don’t go to theater. They don’t go to classical music. Hey, here’s an idea — let’s set up tweeting sections and make performing arts events like every other experience.

Hey, here’s another idea — don’t do it! The Globe recently reported that some local arts institutions may be setting up tweeting sections for that segment of the population who can’t focus on the event in front of them for an hour. That one of these venues is the Lyric Stage Company of Boston is particularly perplexing. Artistic director Spiro Veloudos’s curtain speech always includes a ban on cell phone use followed by his booming pronouncement, “Text messaging is just as odious.’’ The reason is that when you light up an LED screen you’re shifting the focus of everyone else in the theater to you and away from what’s on stage.

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But the graying of America is taking its toll on the performing arts where younger people are not filling the seats of those dying off. It makes sense to do almost anything to lure new audiences. The one thing not to do is grovel for trendiness.

In terms of theater, the only reason to go is to get what you can’t get anywhere else, which isn’t easy. Many HBO and Showtime series are better written than most contemporary plays. The Kendall Square Cinema - where tweeting and texting are banned - usually has a half dozen films more provocative than most new plays.

Why spend five to ten times more for a live event? Because film can rarely be transcendent. For that you usually need live performers and a rapt audience. Dustin Hoffman in the fine film version of “Death of a Salesman’’ can’t compete with any good actor pronouncing “I’m not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman!’’ Imagine experiencing that terrifying moment while the person next to you is tweeting a sad-face emoticon.

Granted, the Lyric is thinking about “Avenue Q’’ as far as tweeting is concerned and those seats will be isolated. Still, it means allowing the barbarians past the gates. Some 20 years ago newspapers tried doing things to lure younger readers, only to find that not only weren’t younger people interested, but older readers were going away.

So a word to the wise. Be careful what you tweet for.

Freelance writer Ed Siegel is former theater and television critic for the Globe.
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