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The speed of communication: staying ahead of last second’s news (and reviewing tomorrow’s shows today)

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The world keeps speeding up – not least thanks to Twitter. In a Guardian blog about its current experiment of broadening the base of theatre criticism, arts editor Andrew Dickson wrote about the new attempts of theatres to embrace the changing times and allow audiences to tweet as they watch in designated zones.

Dickson pointed out that that the issue had already been seized on, of course, by one tweeter, and linked to his blog. Adam Zed duly wrote there:

One of the things I consider exciting about Twitter is the ‘this is happening NOW’ factor when witnessing some event or spectacle or (even) TV show. You’ll know the strange, mild panic of tweeting something as fast as possible in response to what you’re seeing in order to get there first and in order to avoid be ‘last second’s news’. Which means that, if this is to work, the tweeting would have to take place during the performance. A horrible thought. But, sadly, I can conceive of this being allowed in theatres in the future. (NB: It must not be allowed to happen).

Sadly, it already is – as I already reported here a while ago, both formally and informally. And even amongst some so-called arts journalists, too.

But I love the idea of tweeters desperate to avoid being ‘last second’s news’. That desperate urge to say something – anything – as it happens, and not even wait for the end of the show, has been interestingly mirrored by two mainstream outlets recently: In the Toronto Star, Richard Ozounian filed a review for Barbra Streisand’s concert there at the interval to make the deadline – then completed his review later of the second act for the online version.

Meanwhile, Dominic Maxwell, theatre editor of The Times in London, has just done a trip to New York – and filed a report the other day on what he’d seen. It included a review of the new production of The Heiress – which doesn’t officially open on Broadway till next Thursday. He declared what he had done:

The Heiress has only just started previews. But, having bought a ticket, I can at least report that [Dan] Stevens acquits himself well.

I’m sure he’s reassured. But are theatre journalists going to set their own rules now for when they cover things? Sure, we can always buy tickets and publish, as bloggers do, commentary before a show has officially opened. It happens occasionally over here with particularly newsworthy shows, like the time the Sunday Telegraph broke the embargo on the Susan Boyle bio-musical I Dreamed a Dream in Newcastle earlier this year and reviewed its very first public performance.

But the entire edifice on which press nights are built is being tested in the process. If they end up being swept away, journalists may only have themselves to blame – and we’ll all be buying our own tickets, as these ones did, in the future.