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Tweet Seat Talk

   Twitter and social media permeate every part of life, including the arts. Recognizing this shift, Ceci Dadisman, Palm Beach Opera's director of marketing and PR, introduced Tweet Seats. Dadisman had heard of other arts companies employing live tweeting during performances and thought it would be a great means of introducing new audiences to opera. After two successful seasons, the Palm Beach Opera has gained local attention for this initiative, which invites 20 users to live tweet throughout a final dress rehearsal. In our September issue, we lauded Tweet Seats as the best new thing to happen to opera. We chatted with Dadisman about the initiative's beginnings, goals and reception. Was the idea of tweet seats a hard sell?

Dadisman: No, it wasn't at all. Palm Beach Opera as an organization has really been on the forefront of using technology and social media for many years now; we were an early adopter of pretty much everything. We have a standard of doing more innovative things and being on the leading edge.

When was the initiative introduced? What was the first show you did it for?

Madama Butterfly, which was our opening opera of the 2011-12 season.

How was it initially received?

Really well, actually. The first time—and every time we've done it—the seats have sold out. We only make 20 seats available, and to get them people have to sign up using a form on our website. We vet each person before we give them the tickets to make sure they're an active twitter user. We don't base it on number of followers; we take a quality versus quantity approach.

Have you run into any challenges with the program?

Actually, no. We don't really have any challenges with this program. The only other people in attendance at the dress rehearsals are school children, and it's also open to guests of our chorus and orchestra, as well as to some of our high-end donors.  We make it a point—specifically because we have students in the hall—not to announce that it's going on because we don't want the students pulling out their cell phones. From a musician and singer perspective, they all think it's fabulous. Many times we'll have actual performers who will start tweeting and using the hashtag from backstage. Most opera singers these days are on Twitter or at the very least on Facebook or some sort of social media. Any classical musician in this day and age knows you have to change your way of thinking and do whatever you can to get new audiences into the theaters.

Erika Sunnegardh and Ryan McKinny perform in Palm Beach Opera's 2013 production of Salome.

Speaking of new audiences, obviously you're trying to reach a younger audience with this of initiative, correct?

Not necessarily, no. We're just trying to reach new.

And in that respect, do you feel like it's been successful?

Absolutely. Over the course of the past two seasons, about 95 percent of the people who have participated in tweet seats are brand new to Palm Beach Opera. The majority of those people are new to opera in general. We want people who are new to, not only opera, but new to theater in general. The act of letting them tweet is breaking down the barriers and breaking down the stereotypes of what people think opera is, which is old and stodgy.

One of our live tweets from Salome.

What do you see as the relationship between the arts and social media?

Social media is really perfect for the arts. Obviously, social media is a very visual platform, a very multimedia platform—and that's what the arts are. It's the perfect showcase for the arts. Also, the majority of arts organizations are nonprofits, so we all have very small budgets, and social media is free. In addition, people who are on social media tend to be more engaged. For example, if you're talking about Facebook followers or Instagram followers, when you put content out there, you're putting it out there to people who have decided to engage with you; it has a built-in audience right there. I speak at a lot of conferences about what I call the curated experience, which is how nonprofits are using social media to educate and engage. And a lot of arts organizations can do this through really innovative ways, not only through tweet seats but also live tweeting program notes during a symphony concert or live tweeting photos during rehearsal or live instagramming rehearsal photos. These kinds of things are perfect for the arts because the arts are kinetic and most of the arts are intangible.

Anything else you'd like our readers to know about the program?

When some people hear arts organizations are doing things like this, they get very upset. They say things like 'How are they suppose to watch the performance if they're busy tweeting?' and 'It's an abomination.' I've heard people actually yelling about this kind of thing. My first response to that is that every company, if you're thinking of doing it, do it in your own way. Also, it's important to note that we think about it not as these are just random people we're telling to go ahead and tweet. We look at these people really like they have a job to do.

So you're looking at these people as liaisons between the company and the Twittersphere?

Exactly. So you have to be very open to different people's ways of communicating and functioning. Ultimately, what we're all in the business of is getting people to come to our shows, whether you're a symphony, ballet or whatever. And if doing something like this is a way for me to get more people to experience opera then I'm going to do it because opera is awesome, and we want to share it with the maximum number of people that we can.

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January 2017