The Broadway musical Next to Normal is up for a Webby Award for its use of social media in advertising. Although the play has done several interesting social media events including a YouTube Mash up contest and a song written with help from Twitter users, its Webby nomination comes for its Twitter Performance, a tweeted version of the play that began in May 2009 and ended a month later on the morning of the Tony awards. (A great video summary of the Twitter Performance is here ), and a transcript is available here (pdf).
Even almost a year after the fact, the Twitter Performance is a great read. Throughout, N2N tweeted quotes from the play in chronological order. It felt very intuitive – the show’s prelude went out at 11pm on the night before the main event, followed by tweets at 4 am about a teenager coming home late at night, tweets at 7 am about getting ready for school, and tweets about a girl at school come at 1 pm. The next day, N2N did the same thing with lines that appeared later in the play. And so it went throughout the month.
Two other features are worth noting – the premise was that the characters themselves were tweeting their thoughts throughout the day. Rather than force readers to jump back and forth among several different twitter accounts, the tweets were written as dialogue on one Next to Normal account. For example, if you checked the twitter feed at 1 pm on May 5, 2009, you would have seen:
HENRY – OMG. That girl Natalie’s in the practice room working on some classical something & her playing is sweet. Working up guts to say hey.
NATALIE – piano practice. Sonata for recital. Dude just like invades practice room.Annoying. Hate him. Kinda cute.
HEAR “Everything Else” – http://tr.im/kyVg
The “Hear” feature is another innovation. Every so often, N2N posted a link to an audio recording of a song from the show. There weren’t many, usually about one a day.
The entire enterprise is very user friendly. A person in the middle of a busy day isn’t going to pause to listen to an entire cast album, but s/he might very well stop to listen to one song. The time factor also works in the show’s favor – audiences have a month to build up a relationship with the characters, and can join the performance at any time by reading over past tweets. It’s just all very easy and intuitive. Also resoundingly effective – the twitter performance began with 0 followers, and ended with 361,000 at the end of the project. Audiences also grew, although by exactly how much is unclear because the Twitter performance “ran” at a time when the play was nominated for several Tonys. Still, it’s a very impressive use of the medium. When N2N won several Tonys, its cast and crew used their twitter accounts to convey their feelings about the event. The N2N twitter feed is still active today.
If you want to vote for Next to Normal, the Webby ballot is available here.
Katie Barry has been a preschool teacher in Vietnam, a theatre tech in Vermont, and, most recently, a web associate at TCG. When not writing descriptions of herself in the third person, Katie enjoys traveling, theatre, all things international, long brunches, books, and playing with her two kittens. She lives in Brooklyn with Yuki and is learning to swing dance.