Theater Tweet-ups at The Public: Putting a Face to the (Screen) Name

A blurry photo I took at the event.  Sorry, my hand was shaking — probably from all the excitement!
One thing that many playwrights have included in their works is the running theme of connection.  It is a naturally human desire, and one that seems to be harder to obtain, despite the ever-growing digital world we live in.  The idea of connection has been explored in plays such as Patrick Marber‘s Closer, in which 4 complete strangers meet and alternately get involved with one another, having messy relationships along the way.  Early in the play, the character Dan meets Larry in an internet chatroom for adults, and as a prank has him meet Anna.  When they both find out that the whole situation had been set up, Anna remarks sarcastically: “Extraordinary thing, the internet.  Possibility of genuine global communication, the first great democratic medium.”  While the theatrosphere has never suffered through pranks such as the aforementioned, what Anna says does hold some truth about how theatregoers these days have been using the internet.
On Saturday, March 19, 2011, the Public Theater partnered with The American Theatre Wing and 2am Theatre to host their first “Theater Tweet-Up.”  The idea behind the event, which lasted a little over an hour and a half, was to make social media truly social and find a way to, as Howard Sherman (Executive Director of ATW) later described it, “connect in an analog world.”  Tweeps arrived at the Public’s brightly lit and spacious lobby at 11 AM, a table with name tags waiting at the ready greeting them.  The tags each displayed both the person’s name and Twitter handle, for those who pre-registered.  For those who did not register — or did not use Twitter, for that matter — were handed blank tags upon which they could manually scrawl their names and information.  With chocolate donuts all laid out and Jonathan Mandell (a journalist who blogs and tweets as @NewYorkTheater) as the day’s unofficial photographer, the event was definitely in full swing — after Sherman and Nella Vera, Director of Marketing at the Public, said a few words of encouragement and thanks, of course.
(image via Jonathan Mandell)

The room then became “a-twitter” with conversation…in person!  Many attendees — who vary from theatre company directors, bloggers, critics and casual theatre lovers — introduced themselves by name and then showed the tags that held their online identities.  Exclamations of recognition were heard across the room, most of them to the tune of, “I know you!” and “Thanks for the retweets!”

If this had all started as an experiment in seeing whether social media could really be social, the organizers had definitely succeeded in this venture.  Indeed, even as Sherman had pointedly instructed participants to introduce themselves and move on, in a manner not unlike that of a speed-dating event, everyone still seemed to give in to the rush of not having conversation be limited to 140 characters.  More evident signs of the event’s success could be seen afterwards — online, of course.  Many Tweeps continued the conversation there, using hashtag #TheaterTweetup, and following the people they’d just met.  Finally, we see a true merging of both social networking and the media.  By putting a face to the name, new relationships are better forged by using tweets as an icebreaker for meeting in person, and vice versa.  People could now take their meetings into consideration for further collaboration, if the conversation that sparked was of interest and relevance to their professional needs.

All this happened just one day shy of Twitter’s 5th Birthday, which is probably no coincidence.  The social networking site, which now has over 400 million users, has become known in the past couple years as a source of grassroots campaigns (President Obama) and revolutions (Libya).  While that may be so, Theater people aren’t looking for a revolution.  We’re in the business of making connections: onstage and offstage, online and offline.

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