• Image about Tara Gustman
Illustration by Douglas B. Jones
That is the question being asked by a growing number of performing-arts venues, which are setting aside seats for social-media lovers.

Tara Gustman is just the sort of person the Palm Beach Opera wants to attract. Although she’s athletically inclined — interested especially in working out and marathons — Gustman, from Florida, says it has long been in the back of her mind to attend an opera. And it might have just remained something on her bucket list if it hadn’t been for social media. Indeed, after responding to a posting on the Palm Beach Opera’s Facebook page, Gustman recently found herself watching a free performance of Madame Butterfly in a section made up primarily of other opera novices. The one condition? As they took in the sights and sounds of the opera, Gustman and her cohorts had to share their thoughts on Twitter.

“The show was amazing,” says Gustman, who was invited to attend the company’s final dress rehearsal by the opera’s marketing ?director. “I love fashion, and all the costumes were stunning.” The only downside to the experience for Gustman was the challenge of reading the translations of the Italian lyrics projected below the stage fast enough to still be able to tweet. “You read the subheads and then you listen to them sing the chords, and then you’ve got to tweet with enough time to look up again,” she recalls. “You have to be able to multitask.”

Gustman is not alone in facing that challenge. In fact, she is one of a growing number of opera-, symphony- and theatergoers around the country who are attending free shows and sitting in what have come to be called “tweet seats.” From Palm Beach, Fla., to Nashville, Tenn., and from New York to Los Angeles, performing-arts venues are looking to tap into the sort of social-media buzz that can be generated by enthusiastic tweeters like Gustman. According to Ceci Dadisman, who heads up marketing efforts for the Palm Beach Opera, offering tweet seats is a way to both reach out to potential customers and also to tap into the sway they have with their Twitter followers. In other words, it’s a way to take advantage of the power of word-of-mouth marketing in the digital age. “There’s something about that actual personal recommendation, especially for something like opera or ballet or theater,” Dadisman says. “I think it can hold more weight for the average person than any of the marketing material I might send them.”

In a sense, the emergence of tweet seats as a tool to create excitement about a performance is a simple acknowledgment of how people communicate today. Neighbors still lean over white picket fences to share their thoughts about a movie or a play they saw the other night, but that conversation is just as likely to occur through social-media avenues like Facebook and Twitter.  Encouraging and becoming part of that conversation are the main reasons venues like the Nashville Symphony offer tweet seats.

“Our social-media mission is to be available to anyone who wants to explain, describe and share their experiences with others,” says Nancy ?VanReece, who heads up ?social-media efforts for the symphony, which will begin offering tweet seats to patrons this month.