Quite without planning it, I found myself live-tweeting on the opening night of a recent production of Secret Bridesmaids’ Business by Elizabeth Coleman (for Toowoomba’s Empire Theatre). I happened to be in my dressing-room doing a final email check of best wishes and ‘Chookas‘ when the Stage Manager gave the company stand-by call for beginners. That was me – I was a beginner – on first. I felt the familiar excited ‘tingle’ in my fingers; this is my own pre-show adrenalin-rush.
Impulsively, I tweeted that I was about to go on stage and mentioned the buzz out front and backstage. I knew many of my friends and theatre colleagues would be online at the time. They also knew I was in a show, and some knew it was opening night. I made up a hashtag on the spot, #secretbridesmaidsbiz, and off that first tweet went. At various intervals during the next two and a half hours I sent out more tweets. These ‘push’ tweets turned into a running commentary on what was happening at that performance and how I was feeling about it.
Whist I have live-tweeted shows as an audience member in the past – once at the request of a company during action on stage, but more often at interval or afterwards – I realised that, for the first time, I was live-tweeting a performance from my perspective as an actor. Now, this is not new, of course; Jane Fonda live-tweeted from backstage when she was performing on Broadway in 33 Variations a couple of seasons ago. It was, however, a whole new experience for me – live-tweeting from the other side.
As the first few tweets started to get noticed on Twitter, the responses began. Most didn’t use the hashtag. One asked how it was possible for me to tweet during the performance as an actor. The answer is ‘Very simply when you’re armed with a smart phone and choose your moments.’ And no, I did not actually tweet on stage! Yes, Virginia, there are limits.
I tweeted from my dressing-room, from the greenroom at interval and post-show – or when I had returned home and was mulling over the night’s performance. Whilst, strictly speaking, these after-show comments weren’t live-tweets, I did hashtag them because it formed part of the topic flow and conversation – a continuation. I tweeted only once when I was sitting in the wings waiting for a scene to start. This was well before my entrance. Actually, that was the subject of the tweet – why I went to the stage early and waited. If you’re interested you can read the tweet in the stream (below).
On subsequent performance nights in the season I tweeted less frequently. They reflected my reaction to performances of the same play but which, because of the nature of live theatre, were inevitably different in various tiny ways. For example, audience reactions are always slightly and, sometimes, markedly different on different nights so timing a moment can alter slightly; actors may be playing the same scene but there can be nuances of meaning which emerge in an exchange and which go on to be developed as scene-partners listen and react to one another. I thought that some of these things might be of interest to others, especially to audience members who love to know more about how a play gets ‘up’ and actors work. I was rather chuffed later on when I read a tweet from someone who had been following the thread.
At interval on a couple of nights there were comments from several Twitter friends who happened to be in the audience. This feedback was not distracting for me (fortunately) but very supportive. I could have chosen not to read any replies, of course. Go public on Twitter and you never quite know what kind of reaction you are going to get! You takes your chances.
The responses were overwhelmingly positive. There were a couple that urged me to focus on performance rather than on Twitter; one suggested there could be lots of criticism for doing so during a show. Not sure why – setting a bad example, maybe, or distracting myself? Whilst I can understand and agree about the importance of concentrating on the main task of the night, I do find the attitude that you can’t do more than one thing at a time terribly … well, limited and unrealistic. It completely ignores the fact that the human mind is capable of operating on various levels at one and the same time and very well, thank you very much. Go backstage during a performance and observe the reality of people operating the machine of performance in full-swing, or talk of what’s meant by ‘in the moment’ with an actor, and you’ll see what I mean.
So, would I do it again? Sure, if I thought it added anything to the commentary scrap-book on performance which many of the posts on this blog address. In the past I have kept casebooks of performances over the course of a rehearsal or season of a show. These used to be in the form of diary entries, and then online as longer observations or riffs in more considered blog posts. In this case, it seemed to me, the medium (Twitter) was absolutely the right choice for what turned out to be commentary on the fly of a performance at a particular time and place, and from a personal perspective.