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Thursday, January 15, 2009

 

A bold experiment in live theater or a prebaked debacle?

Given the economy, changing trends, rapidly evolving technology and shifts in socioculturalvaluesdemographicalsomethings it's not hard to understand why theaters and orchestras all over the world are having a hard time pulling in crowds under the age of, oh, say, 65. Locally, Portland Center Stage has recently come up with a slew of events designed to, let's be honest here, slowly replace their aging customer base with a younger audience.

Over the past year, PCS has hosted indie bands and has released $10 rush tickets to their productions. Now for Saturday's performance of Apollo (check out the trailer below) they've reserved the balcony for Twitter users to report on and critique the performance online as it unfolds. Because, as we all know, everyone under the age of 30 in this country can't go anywhere without keeping their Twitter/Facebook/Blogger/MySpace followers constantly informed of their thoughts, actions, whereabouts, bowel movements and every funny thing they've seen on the internet in the last five minutes.

*ahem*




It's a bold experiment and one that, all things considered, I can't see going over very well. The limitations of live theater demand silence and a respectful audience. A while back I caught a production of Macbeth in London. A bored husband sitting somewhere behind me had the gall to sneak in a large bag of Doritos. The sound of crunching chips and slurping was enough to irritate half of the balcony and, while a brawl didn't break out, enough sighing and glaring erupted to rival the lobby of a couples counseling center. The actions of one completely indifferent and oblivious individual just about ruined the evening for a hundred theater-goers.

Now imagine what it's going to be like up in the balcony at PCS on Saturday night. Dozens of bloggers, Twitter users and tech-head narcissists with short attention spans will be packed up there running amuck with their Blackberries, laptops and iPhones. The light of a single cell phone is enough to distract several rows of viewers in your average movie theater. The collective glow coming off of all of those electrical devices will inevitably drive the cast crazy and the bluehairs on the main floor up a wall.

Some of the tickets to this event were comped, others were discounted. What sort of Twitter user would show up for something like this anyway?

Well, a Twitter user like me, for starters. I'll be there on Saturday night with my iPhone and a friend. I'm told that we members of the Twitter crowd will begin the evening with a lecture from the staff on how to best avoid annoying the bejeezus out of the entire theater. The two of us will no doubt be on our best behavior (honest!) but what about everyone else? Maybe I should bring along some Doritos if things get interesting.

I do sincerely hope I'm wrong about all of this but, given how most of the Twitter users I follow aren't accustomed to pulling their punches, the odds aren't in PCS' favor. Given how self-important the production looks based on the trailer, I'm expecting an all-out debacle on Saturday night, especially if everyone starts acting like the sort of crowd that turns out for free movie screenings. This event could become the theater-management equivalent of smearing oneself in tuna guts and running into the Sea Lion Caves.

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