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The State Theatre of Chicago is promoting what it calls the "Tangled Web"—encouraging audience members to turn on their cellphones during the March 11 performance of the company's Ajax/Antigone so they can "actively participate via social media, Facebooking their opinions and tweeting pics of the show in real time, breaking down the third wall." (Actually it's the fourth wall, unless they want to get the set designer pissed off.) According to artistic director Tim Speicher, "This is the 21st century, yet there's a temptation to treat theater as if it were the 19th."
Maybe he's right. In the 19th century and all the centuries before, theater was intense, immediate, and non-negotiably real. But in 2010, it seems, it must be virtual, processed, and networkable—so much second-hand sensation. Like the proverbial tree in the forest that doesn't fall unless someone hears it, a show isn't real until it's been blogged.
What a clever way to get a paying crowd to hype your production while ignoring it at the same time.
The theater is where we go to find the illusions that tell the truth. It can't be reduced to an art form twice removed from its vibrant actuality. It's the ultimate real deal—in your face and of the moment. Diluting it with a bored or boring twitter does the art no favors.