Thoughts about things I've done and news about what I'm going to do.

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An irregularly updated blog (mostly) about theatre.

  • Speak Bitterness, Appreciate Twitter 19 October 2014 | View comments

  • Last night, I watched the livestream of Forced Entertainment’s Speak Bitterness (or the latter three hours of it, at least - I’d been busy rehearsing a musical with a pug called Nigel up until then).


    I was mesmerised by the show (which was a stream of possible and actual confessions, all delivered as statements of what ‘we’ had done). It felt to me like an exercise in – or challenge to – empathy. It was left to the audience to impose order on the constantly spooling list of actions – to decide what mattered, which narratives weighed as more significant than others, which parties were more wronged. The audience were given responsibility for acknowledging each individual act confessed to, for preventing the ongoing stream becoming background noise, for ensuring that horrific acts weren’t lost or overlooked in amongst the chaos.


    But it wasn’t just the show itself that struck me (I use ‘show’ here to mean, essentially, what happened onstage – it’s arguable that what I’m going to talk about could be viewed as part of a wider show, or a show in itself). It was the experience of being on Twitter during the performance.


    Last night was the first time that I felt like I got Twitter, that I saw how Twitter could be good.


    I joined Twitter a couple of years ago because it felt like something I should do (never a great reason for doing anything). After a brief period of novelty (ending somewhere around the point when I received a DM from Rupert Goold, only to discover it was spam rather than an impromptu job offer), I settled into using it sporadically and not with any particular enthusiasm or affection.*


    Conversations with friends on Twitter have felt strange and misplaced, and solitary tweets akin to shouting from the rooftops (i.e. impulsively hurling messages out into the world, with little consideration for who actually hears them, if anyone at all). I think, more than anything, Twitter’s tended to strike me as a vertical, barely curated clusterfuck.


    But the use of/activity on Twitter during Speak Bitterness last night finally made me think ‘this is what Twitter’s for’.** I typed #FESPEAKLIVE so much it’s more ingrained in my muscle memory than my own signature. I flirted with watching the show on its own, but quickly discovered I largely preferred to watch it with the accompaniment of others’ responses, reactions and discussions.


    Now, the techno-wary side of me (the side that thinks of downloading apps as the start of a slippery slide towards Skynet-inflicted doom) does wonder if this is possibly a bad thing. Is my attention span so lacking that simply watching the show wasn’t enough to occupy me? Is looking to other people’s thoughts and reactions, before I’ve barely even experienced my own, a kind of mental/emotional complacency? Have I somehow slipped into preferring faceless, typed messages to the spoken words of live(streamed) performers?


    But, ultimately, I don’t think the role that Twitter played in last night’s performance (both for me and for many others) is a negative one. Because, for the time I was on Twitter, I felt like part of an audience, rather than some voyeur, watching both performers and audience members from a distance.


    And this Twitter-forged audience was a wonderful one for various reasons: first off, everyone in that audience was there because they wanted to be there. The livestream format meant that no one was being forced to watch the show – no one was sticking it out in order to get their money’s worth, or continuing to watch simply because they felt uncomfortable walking out. Those on Twitter wanted to join in the conversations being had, to share their responses and discover others’.


    Secondly, this was an audience able to give detailed responses to the performance in real time. The various tweets often felt akin to the laughter, tears, gasps or silences you might note in a live audience, but with the benefit of being more precisely articulated; conversations about certain moments didn’t have to wait until an interval or after the show, but happened the instant those moments occurred (something that I find far more interesting, as (for myself at least) the more immediate the response, the more instinctive and inalienable it is).


    Of course, no performance happens in a vacuum – but with Speak Bitterness, watched online and accompanied by Twitter, it felt like there was a greater interweaving of performance and audience than many live shows I’ve seen. Comments made about how other people reacted to different performers made me reassess how I watched the piece midway through; the confessions delivered by the performers were occasionally interrupted by ones offered by those watching. The show was, for me, shaped just as much by what other audience members said and did, as what happened onstage – and at no point did this feel intrusive or distracting, but always natural and entirely befitting the show.


    Maybe this is partially a result of how I view the show. If Speak Bitterness – the show happening on a stage – is an exercise in, and challenge to, empathy – then the experience of watching Speak Bitterness whilst engaging with other audience members on Twitter is merely a more complex exercise and challenge, one expanded beyond your own empathy to other individuals’, and then other groups’ (which you may or may not be a member of). What was happening on Twitter became, in and of itself, worth watching.


    I’m finding it hard to pin down, succinctly, what it was I felt I got about Twitter last night (here’s hoping I don’t have to wait for another Forced Entertainment livestream to get it again). I felt like I finally experienced how Twitter's uniquely positioned to facilitate fascinating conversations (rather than simply having to trust that it can). Also, in being coupled with Speak Bitterness, I saw how Twitter can be a platform for an extension or development of a show, can enhance or enrich viewing a performance online. Twitter seemed like the online space that Speak Bitterness spilled into, and being on it during the performance meant I didn't feel like some isolated and detached voyeur, but a member of a group organically formed by - and therefore somehow a part of - the show.




    Additional: Jason Crouch wrote some interesting (and far more succinct) thoughts on this subject, and also has a brilliant Storify of the final #FESPEAKLIVE tweets. It shows how shamelessly I enjoyed tweeting last night that I’ve ended up on the Storify via both my personal and company accounts…




    *There is one high-point where I was actually grateful for Twitter. I was able to apologise to Edgar Wright after excitedly spotting him in Angel and being so starstruck that I only managed to say ‘I fucking love you’. And he replied with a very sweet DM. But that’s a pretty niche purpose, really.


    **I did watch Quizoola and dabble in some tweeting then, but only caught that show in snatches, never really able to build up any Twit-steam.

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