Ebertfest: Social Networking and the shared audience experience

While there was much grumbling about the appalling lack of manners brought on by social media and smart phones, Los Angeles live theaters have attempted to take a practical approach. The Pantages Theater has evenings where in a special section, people are allowed, no encouraged to tweet. Recently, during Black History month, Center Theatre Group held special tweet sessions between two related plays: “A Raisin in the Sun” and “Clybourne Park.”

CTG owns three theaters (Mark Taper Forum, Ahmanson and Kirk Douglas). When the 1959 “A Raisin in the Sun” was in revival at the Kirk Douglas, the newer “Clybourne Park was playing at the Mark Taper. Lorraine Hansberry’s play is based upon her family’s experience in Chicago during the 1930s, but the play itself is set in the 1950s with a black family, the Youngers, attempting to use life insurance money to buy the family a home and move out of their dingy apartment. The house is in a pre-dominately white neighborhood and the neighborhood associationi attempts to buy back the house.

The 2010 Bruce Norris play, “Clybourne Park,” is told from the perspective of the white family selling the house to Youngers at the same time in Act I (1959) and then, in Act II, decades later the house becomes the topic of political correctness as the community must again make decisions (2009).  The tweeting allowed audiences to share their experience and special seating was required (toward the back of the theater in order to avoid distracting other audience members).

How would this apply to movie theaters? Technology also allows movie theaters to have special events from around the world such as live broadcasts of opera and ballet. Or even the special event surround a particular well-known figure such as the one-night nationwide screening of “Jane’s Journey,” a documentary about Jane Goodall.

Operas can run four hours and during the half-hour intermission would be an ideal time for opera lovers around the world to tweet about their experience.  Fathom schedules live, high-definition performance transmission from the Metropolitan nationwide.

Emerging Pictures also schedules live transmission (and encore screenings) from Europe to the U.S.  Opera and ballet lovers can see productions from Italy, Spain and England.

On the low-tech side, I recall but can’t find the name of a local acting troupe that used to perform their own dialogue or commentary to old movies, Imagine allowing an audience to join the act as subtitles projected on a screen Why not? Even bad movies could become good entertainment. “Reefer Madness” was made into a campy musical and the footage from the actual movie was like a sideshow. The same for “Plan 9 from Outer Space.” That’s Los Angeles which has a glut of frustrated actors.

We can complain about social media, Twitter, Facebook and Google+ or we can consider positive ways to use them to build a community. I’d imagine there are only a couple dozen people in each brick-and-mortar community serious enough to make the 4-hour commitment to watch a live opera broadcast. Yet linking those small groups can expand the community and encourage beautiful conversations across city, state and national borders.

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