Dear MN Opera,
We don’t know eachother all that well. It’s not anyone’s fault, we’re all busy people, going about living our lives. If you got to know us, I’m sure we’re the kind of people you would want to have coming around. We’re young professionals, culturally connected and inquisitive with large peer networks and a desire to see the arts thrive. But you know what? We read your tweets of Madame Butterfly tonight (congrats on opening BTW) and we can’t let it sit there. So, in the vein of previous posts offering advice to the Southern Theater and what the music scene (contemporary, popular was who it was written for, but definitely applicable across disciplines) can do for itself, here are some thoughts for you, MN Opera, in the aftermath of an unmitigated Twitter tragedy.
1. Define your character. “Yo what up hipster?” What? Twitter takeovers or characters can work, and can be funny and engaging –Rainn Wilson took over the LACMA Twitter feed a while back and it was fine because it was clear who Rainn Wilson is (please tell me you know) and what he was doing. It works if people are in on the joke. That includes you. But it’s advanced stuff that requires clear preparation and signposting. You did none of that. You gave us this by way of advance notice.
You’ll notice that it’s on Facebook, not even the same social media platform. So get that in order. Then, the reputation-making question, who is this? Do they actually have “super hip interpretation of what’s really going on! (in hipster nomenclature)”? Keep in mind that you are reaching out to people who may or may not be familiar with the opera and the plot. You have to do some definition for us here. Again, nothing by way of saying who, what, or why.
Were these tweets supposed to be from a character in Madame Butterfly? If so, you made them an utterly shallow, shrill nitwit who thinks it’s appropriate and funny to tweet the word “douschenozzle” – and misspell it at that (lose the “s”). Even worse, was this your idealized “hipster” or whomever it is you see yourself as reaching out to via Twitter? In that case, this stream of non sequiturs is simply insulting and condescending towards your intended audience. Not only have you reduced the plot and performance of your work to the cattiest, most simplistic of sentence fragments, but you’ve repelled the generally intelligent and cultured users of Twitter who might have been primed for further interaction in the future. If you want to engage someone, have a modicum of respect for their intelligence.
2. Tell us something we don’t know. As a bit of encouragement, here is an example of a generally decent tweet from tonight; it’s a little dull, yes, it could use some more specificity, but it’s at least straightforward enough.
Then in the very next offering, you send it all back off-track:
When you tweet out that the opera is “[t]oo deep for words, you wldn’t understand #operaisthebestthingever #youmustseethisopera”, it isn’t actually an invitation to see the opera, nor is it an actual attempt to describe anything. It’s just lazy writing, and it shuts down further communication. Use adjectives, even if they are in character. We wouldn’t understand? Try us.
And then you have a tweet like this:
Not only does this show a fundamental ignorance of how Twitter functions (that you can’t use punctuation in a hashtag) but it also misses an opportunity to actually tell us who Kelly Kaduce is, in favor of some petty snarking about national fame. Kelly Kaduce is a national star? Great. This is the internet, link me to something that proves it. Here you go, here’s the link to the New York Times review of Madame Butterfly at the Santa Fe Opera. Took me three minutes on Google, and I’m just using keywords that are right there in the tweets. Surely you’d find more, or even better, create your own material to prove how big of a star Kaduce is and how lucky you are to have her back.
3. Use the tools correctly. On that note about punctuation above, please UNDERSTAND HOW HASHTAGS WORK. It’s a good first step towards being taken seriously. Find one and use it to a) brand the tweets and b) get people involved in the conversation. Look to Wits on MPR and their ever-so-elegant #wits hashtagging that makes the secondary experience of the live recording such a funny, sprawling conversation. Granted, you may not have it that easy with titles, but even something as simple as #MBopening can get people involved, and creates an easily accessible public record of the event. You can also use it to indicate the sarcastic tone: #FakeOperaTweets. Twitter is communication and communication is participatory. These tweets are from a Pop-rocks-addled tween about to go into cardiac arrest, and there’s just no talking to people like that.
4. Stop trying to be cute. Here a Hall of Shame of tweets with “tw” puns, not to mention stale culture references. Just look at them and think about what you’ve done.
Please, we write these things not so that you will give up on social media, but know that if you are going to use it, you have to use it better. If you view Twitter (and Facebook etc.) simply a place where people type incomprehensible gibberish, then stop using it. If, however, you can find a way to use these platforms to communicate your passion for opera (or, as a cautionary tale to all other arts organizations, or organizations in general, whatever your passion may be) please, do that. Do that as yourself, do that as characters in your performance, do that to get people talking with and to you, not just about you. Because if your takeaway from this debacle is that “Well, at least people are talking about us,” and you count that as a moral victory, then you haven’t learned anything from this terribly painful experience we’ve shared.
If you do want us to come around, to experience the profundity of the music and thrill of virtuoso performance you can start by communicating that in an articulate, open way that invites conversation. That would help break the apathy. For the time being, we’ll assume that the retweet there was ironic.