Every theatre goer has probably experienced this at one time or another: you’re sat in the dark theatre, absorbed by the action on stage when suddenly, someone sat in front takes out their phone and the burst of light it emits brings you back to reality with a jolt.

Once a connection with what’s going on onstage is broken it’s hard to get it back, so it’s no wonder that phones are the bane of directors, actors, front of house staff and audience members everywhere. Let’s face it, no matter how many times the polite pre-recorded lady on the speaker system asks you to turn off any mobile devices before the show, there’s usually bound to be at least one that goes off during it!

So it’s understandable that controversy has been generated recently over the apparent introduction of ‘Tweet Seats’ into a certain London theatre. A Tweet Seat is an allocated chair in the audience in which the person sitting is allowed, and actively encouraged, to tweet throughout the performance. There are strict rules in place though; the person in the Tweet Seat must deactivate the flash on their camera and keep their device on silent, and usually they’ll be positioned in the back of the theatre or close to the sound desk where the light from their phone won’t be too noticeable.

This new feature has been trialled throughout August and September for the relatively new musical ‘Once’, which came to the West End in 2013 and is based on the 2006 film of the same name.

The producers of this show are already savvy to the benefits of social media, in March 2014 ‘Once’ held a social media call- an invite only event that allowed guests to take pictures and videos and share them throughout the performance across various social media channels. Guests posted pictures using #SecretOnceGig, and a large selection of images and videos were uploaded, generating excitement amongst existing fans as well as sparking the interest of a potential new audience to the show.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that the idea of the Tweet Seat has been adopted as a marketing campaign for a musical not afraid of trying new and unconventional ideas to attract its audience. Twice a week, a journalist or high-profile guest will be chosen as the show’s ‘Tweet Seater’, and is invited backstage for a tour as well as an onstage drink with the cast prior to the show. They then tweet to an expectant following using #OnceTweetSeat about the show and the atmosphere in the theatre, giving those reading an idea of the success and popularity of the musical.

This way of marketing the show has generated a great deal of interest and speculation. From the eight performances where Tweet Seats were trialled, the show’s official Twitter account @oncemusicalLDN received 2.3 million Twitter impressions. In comparison to the average mentions received by West End musicals each month, this is at least 1 million more- and this staggering figure was achieved after only eight performances. By the final week of the Tweet Seat trial, @oncemusicalLDN was receiving 644,000 more impressions per week.

Although a clever way of generating exposure and discussion about the show, whether this was actually successful in its purpose of attracting a new, larger audience to the theatre is unclear. But it certainly highlights the power of social media as an advertising tool that delivers results and can be adapted to work in even the most unconventional environment.

Although successful in increasing audience engagement when trialled, the Tweet Seat isn’t a feature that will be adopted by all theatres and shows. If used, it will be done respectfully with the paying audience in mind. Lights will be kept to a minimum and those doing the tweeting are usually regular theatre goers themselves, who feel just as odd using their phones from the audience as others might feel about seeing them doing it.

Tweet Seating will only be used as a marketing device for specific productions which would benefit from attracting the attention of a newer audience through social media. Those of you concerned about encouraging the use of mobile phones and electronic devices in theatres needn’t worry, on stage selfies with the Phantom of the Opera aren’t about to become the next big thing.

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