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Guthrie's tweet-seats experiment for 'Servant' generates national press, lively comments

Servant of Two Mastersc
Courtesy of the Guthrie/Richard Termine
The cast of the Guthrie Theater’s presentation of the Yale Repertory Theatre production of "The Servant of Two Masters," by Carlo Goldoni.

"Tweet seats" at the Guthrie: bright idea, or the end of civilization as we know it? Just before Christmas, the theater announced that beginning Dec. 27 and continuing for three more Thursdays, a limited number of balcony-level seats in the McGuire Proscenium would be set aside for social-media users. The Guthrie hopes the tweeters will use the time to discuss “The Servant of Two Masters,” the play they’re supposedly watching. 

The story ended up on Salon and Huff Post (“Minnesota Theater Offers ‘Tweet Seats’ To Smartphone Addicts”), and we wondered briefly if it would go viral, like the Walker’s Internet Cat Video Festival. It did, sort of, provoking lively and sometimes vitriolic responses. James Lileks decried tweet seats as “another sign of the decline of Everything” and compared them to the smoking lounges in the old Cooper Theater on Hwy. 12. (As if those were bad things.) Letter writer Melissa Terrien noted that “tweeting during live performances is the modern, technology-enabled equivalent of the original Shakespearian theaters, in which audiences interacted loudly and raucously with the actors and with one another.” Hear, hear! Comments on blogs and Facebook included “stay home,” “distracting gimmick,” and “F*** you, Guthrie.” One cynic opined, “I’d be surprised if we don’t see the premium pricing/seating eventually being used for people who want to get away from tweeters.” (Now that’s a scary thought.) At MnMo, Ellen Burkhardt objected more to the fact that theaters are allowing food and drink at performances, then dubbed Tweet Seats “simply a reflection of society today.” Minnesota Playlist reminded us that Mixed Blood started offering tweet seats over a year ago.

We asked the Guthrie’s Quinton Skinner to tell us more. “We are not changing the fundamental nature of what it is to go to the Guthrie,” he said. “We’re doing an experiment that was inspired by one particular show. It seemed like a natural fit.” [“Servant” is a loosey-goosey 18th-century comedy filled with contemporary pop-culture references.] “The whole cast was on board; we would not have done this if the cast didn’t agree. The art comes first. If you’re anywhere but in the upper balcony, you won’t see the screens.”

We planned to attend the Guthrie’s second Tweet Seat Thursday last night, spending the first half on the main floor and the second embedded with the tweeters. Then the water main broke and the Guthrie closed. If you’d like a tweet seat for “Servant” on Jan. 10 or 17, call 612-377-2244 and mention “TWEET.”

Now that the New Year is here, may we please have our orchestras back? Talks resumed this week at both the Minnesota Orchestra and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra after months of stalled negotiations, canceled concerts and rising frustration among fans. At the Minnesota Orchestra, management and musicians agreed to a fresh start. Management took the first steps, offering to return to the former mission statement, with two modifications (its changed mission statement makes no mention of the orchestra), sharing financial forecasts for 2012-15, inviting musicians to submit a proposal for an independent financial review, and suggesting more meeting dates. At the SPCO, a federal mediator is involved and a media blackout has been imposed, so all we know is that at least two meetings have taken place. 

Have you heard that in Indianapolis, two professional sports teams, the Colts and the Pacers, have pledged $750,000 each to the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra? That orchestra, like our two, was locked out in early fall of 2012 but resumed performances in October. Pacers owner Herb Simon said in a press release that his city’s orchestra “has been embedded in our downtown, our schools, and our Hoosier communities for more than 82 years.” Vikings, Wolves, and Twins (and you, too, Wild, when you’re back on the ice), the Minnesota Orchestra has been part of our community and yours for 110 years, the SPCO for 54. Just saying.

Apparently it takes a really long time to gather complete data on charitable giving, but according to the Minnesota Council on Foundations’ “Giving in Minnesota, 2012 Edition,” arts, culture and humanities grant dollars increased 20 percent, to $129 million – in 2010. Private foundation giving to the arts increased by 15 percent; corporate grantmakers increased their giving to the arts by 9 percent. According to the report, “performing arts received the largest share of arts grant dollars in 2010 … Giving to performing arts increased 25 percent from 2009. Much of this increase can be attributed to grants to the Minnesota Orchestral Association’s capital campaign.” Museums received the second highest share of arts funding. Giving to historical societies rose 45 percent. The five largest arts grantmakers in 2010 were Target, the Minneapolis Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Saint Paul Foundation and Minnesota Community Foundation, and 3M. Thank you.

Chiharu Shiota, Biel Klavier 139, 2009
Courtesy of the Rochester Art Center
Chiharu Shiota, Biel Klavier 139, 2009. Piano, chairs, mixed media

The Rochester Art Center has received a $75,000 grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The grant provides two years of operating support for the Art Center’s exhibition program and the inaugural presentation of K(NOW), a new lecture series featuring artists from around the world. The grant will help fund new projects with Chiharu Shiota (Japan), Monica Sosnowska (Poland), Lamar Peterson (Minnesota), and David Rathman (Minnesota), among others. Upcoming K(NOW) artists include Lisa Anne Auerback (Los Angeles), Kendall Geers (Johannesburg-Brussels), and Shiota.

The Rake is back – online, in an archival way. Published in the Twin Cities from 2002-2008 by Tom Bartel and Kristin Henning, The Rake was smart and sassy, with fine writers including Brad Zellar, Cristina Córdova, Brian Lambert, Britt Robson, Colleen Kruse, Ann Bauer, Kate Iverson and Christy DeSmith. “Secrets of the City” was born at the Rake. Both Tom and Kristin were avid supporters of the arts in the cities. I’m glad I can visit the website and wander around.

You can catch up with Zellar at his blog, Your Man for Fun in Rapidan (be sure to read “A Man Who Wins the Dog Lottery Is a Lucky Man”) and at Little Brown Mushroom, the publishing house established in 2008 by photographer Alec Soth. Blending Zellar’s road-trip stories with Soth’s photographs, the irregularly-published, newspaper-style Little Brown Mushroom Dispatches – from Ohio, upstate New York, and Michigan (so far) – are turning up on best-of-2012 photobook lists.

New Year, new resolve to see more and do more? On sale now:

• Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, Wednesday-Thursday, Jan. 9-10, at the Dakota. Less and less a jazz club, more and more a venue for music of many kinds, the Dakota is a great place to see a show: intimate, comfortable, seated, with a full bar and restaurant. If you’ve ever wanted to see the Motown legends sing their hits – “Heat Wave,” “Dancing in the Street,” “Nowhere to Run” – this is one of the best places in the world to do that. Park in the Target ramp ($5, 10th and LaSalle, enter on LaSalle), take the skyway, and you can leave your coat in the car.

B-Boy J-Sun and crew
Courtesy of the Cowles Center/Adam Adolphus
B-Boy J-Sun and Crew
• B-Boy J-Sun and Crew, Friday-Saturday, Jan. 18-19, at the Cowles. Hip-hop, traditionally performed on the streets, transformed for the theater. With live music by Saltee (Jacqueline Ultan on cello, Mike Michel aka Bill Mike on guitars, Carnage on voice/beatboxing) and a b-boy battle between Looney Tunes and Optimistic Crew. Last year’s show at the Cowles sold out. Expect a vocal and enthusiastic crowd; that’s part of the fun. Here’s a video.

•  “Women of Red House Records: A 30th Anniversary Concert,” Friday, March 1, at the O’Shaughnessy. High-fives to Red House, the St. Paul label founded by Bob Feldman that became an American roots music institution. The concert will feature Lucy Kaplansky, Claudia Schmidt, and Heather Masse (of The Wailin’ Jennys). Both Kaplansky and Masse have new albums out on Red House. 

•  “An Evening with Diana Krall,” Sunday, April 28, at the State. Why did Krall wear a black bustier and garters for the cover of her latest CD, “Glad Rag Doll”? Because her look fits the theme of the music, and because she can.

Opening Jan. 18 at the Science Museum of Minnesota: “Body Worlds & The Cycle of Life,” with 200 human specimens including 20 full-body “plastinates” – specially preserved human bodies in action poses including a skateboarder, baseball player and ballet dancer. The first “Body Worlds” (2006) was the most popular exhibition in the museum’s history, drawing 750,000 visitors. You might want to get those tickets now. Ends May 5.

Closing Jan. 27 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts: “China’s Terracotta Warriors.” Imagine you’re a Chinese farmer digging a well in 1974. Clunk goes your shovel, and you’ve chanced upon a subterranean army of more than 7,000 life-size terracotta soldiers, complete with horses and chariots. (Imagine climbing down ancient stairs and finding King Tut’s tomb, or following your dog into a hole and discovering the Lascaux caves.) The MIA exhibition includes eight warriors, two horses, and 100 more artifacts from the ongoing excavation. The exhibition was originally scheduled to close Jan. 20 but has been extended a week. Snooze and lose.

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Comments (2)

Tweet seats

I'm ok with that...until it bothers someone who isn't tweeting. People pay money for seats for shows that provide them entertainment that is NOT their phone. A bright smart phone screen can disrupt the view from a long way away, even at the periphery of your vision. Thus, one audience member with a phone on can devalue a lot of seats. I'm glad it's ok with the cast, but is it really ok for the audience members withing visual range of the tweet seats?

Visual range

As the Guthrie's Quinton Skinner said when we spoke, "If you're anywhere but in the upper balcony, you won't see the screens." The designated tweet seats are all in the upper balcony. So there are no other audience members within visual range. I haven't been there myself on a tweet night -- I hoped to go last night, but the downtown water main broke and the show was cancelled. I totally agree with you that the tweeting shouldn't bother those who aren't tweeting. My husband and I were at a concert at the Orpheum last year and someone beside us used her smartphone all night long. It was very distracting.