There is something in the air that resembles the stench of manure being spread across the fields to encourage growth of crops. This stench comes in the form of Mudlurk and The RSC with their joint project Such Tweet Sorrows. There has already been numerous articles criticising the project and whilst I have taken these criticism lightly I can’t help but to join the line of people who are let down with Such Tweet Sorrows.
My attitudes towards the project have changed dramatically over the course of the ‘show’ being unfolded. First an excitement at the prospect of twitter being engaged in such a manner that it might make Shakespeare accessible to younger people. Then a slight amazement that this all was happening. Amazement easily turned to acceptance and disappointment as the characters being presented on Twitter were over the top, offensive and anything from the what Shakespeare created. Lastly, my thoughts turn to a different element that has suddenly swept rather unnoticed and caused a rather foul smell surrounding the project.
Taking centre stage, may we introduce Three Mobile Buzz, a branch of the Three mobile phone network who work with social media to engage Three mobile users more – they are one of the official sponsors of the Such Tweet Sorrows project. Last week I was contacted by a Three Mobile Buzz representative with the idea of trialing a Three mobile phone to “get involved in the action by interacting with the characters and taking part in the story” of Such Sweet Sorrows. Naturally I leapt at the chance – I’ve been chosen! Hurrah for a free phone! Hurrah for interaction with a RSC production. Hurrah, Hurrah, Hurrah!
The phone was couriered out to me that afternoon and the representative of Three Mobile Buzz even went to some extra special effort at making the moment memorable for me, and truth be told, I was actually rather excited. Here are some photos documenting what I found:
Now putting aside of the glorified PR what am I left with? A mobile phone and the ability to tweet on the move (something which I don’t currently have on my normal phone). So, naturally I am still happy with the prospect of being able to use twitter everywhere and anywhere to keep in touch with what is going on (oh, yeah, and the latest Such Tweet Sorrows going on’s).
Everything is set up. I use the Twitter For Free (On Three) bookmark installed on the phone to gain access to my twitter account and join in the fun. It takes a while for me to get use to this idea of using a phone to log into my twitter, and a few communication errors I am in. The interface is basic, it is simple to use – in fact, it’s nothing special. Oh.
So what of Such Tweet Sorrow and me? Well, I can follow the story easily enough, and despite my efforts to reply to some of the characters giving them my opinion – sadly the signal is so awful inside buildings that I don’t reply quick enough to be join in being a ‘witness’ for the virtual wedding of Romeo and Juliet. In fact the signal with Three is so terrible that I receive so many ‘twitter timed out’, ‘communication failure’ and error messages that I wonder how I am meant to engage with twitter at all if all I get is nothing.
Let me make this perfectly clear: I have been with a single network since I got my first mobile phone nearly 10 years ago. Has Three made me even remotely think about changing network providers? No, No, and by god NO. I have never experienced such a terrible network with a signal that drops so constantly that making any kind of communication with the outside world is somewhat unobtainable.
Even if I had a signal to be able to operate the free twitter service they are promoting my experiences of the Such Tweet Sorrows project have not changed in the slightest, but what is to be expected? The cast don’t actively join in conversations with the outside world – it all takes place within the insular world they are conducting on Twitter. This to me just makes me want to scream out the obvious! Twitter is meant for communication/dialogue. It is about the engagement and interaction you have with other like minded people.
If you at least choose a medium to be working within, isn’t it right to follow at least some of the basic rules that go with that medium… otherwise it might as well have been taken place on facebook, myspace or even on a dating website – for the context is meaningless. Clearly staging the piece through twitter was a great idea on paper, but anything beyond that it falls sadly at every hurdle.
The real action for me, doesn’t come from action tweeted from the ‘actors’ but from the conversation it develops from the people who are following the action in the twitter fields. Hell, even my response of writing this blog is a reaction to the ‘action’. Maybe it is better to just search for the #suchtweet hashtag to follow the dialogue of the people who are either loving it, or hating it. Maybe that is the whole point? It makes for an interesting read sometimes where people are venting their frustrations or creating little ‘teams’ of support for characters.
Whatever my reasoning of attempting to put the project into a solid mind frame it is being kicked aside by the overwhelming sense that the project is being driven by other actions than the original intention. The involvement of Three Mobile Buzz to get creative people (as I was described) using their service to ‘engage’ with the action, is in fact a method for me to be happily promoting a commercial company. The fact that the characters have mentioned their latest phones, giving a nice photo of their lovely new phone (courtesy of Sony Ericson and Three the two sponsors) they are placing a product directly into twitter feed of young people (who the project is targeted at).
Was this venture by the Royal Shakespeare Company really worth some of the allies they had to make along the way to get the project working? Are we secretly being marketed at a particular mobile phone service through the way the action is being played? Don’t forget that all the characters are using the ‘twitter for free’ app on their Three phones which each time they are used produces a nice link back to the Three Mobile Buzz website – a nice way for Three to be promoting their services. See the below image where ‘via Three for free’ links to the website.
Such Tweet Sorrows is such a let down, and quite frankly I am disappointed that my experience has now been linked with a commercial company such as Three.
Has my experience changed since using Three? Am I in any shape, form or way involved more with the Such Tweet Sorrows project? Do I feel like Three Mobile Buzz are using the project to offer their mobile network to people who will actively promote the company through blogging and tweeting? I think you know the answer.
**UPDATE 12th May 2010**
Since posting my experiences with the Such Tweet Sorrows project, and my experience of using a Three Mobile device, I have received the following statement from 3 via Three Mobile Buzz.
3 is very proud to sponsor the RSC-Mudlark production of Such Tweet Sorrow. 3 has a strong focus on the development of the mobile internet and services such as Twitter have proven extremely popular with our customers.
When Mudlark approached us about this innovative take on the timeless classic Romeo and Juliet, we felt it would be the perfect opportunity for mobile users to benefit both in terms of how Twitter can be used and hopefully to keep them entertained. Moreover, Free Twitter on Three meant that we could make the production accessible to all our users. 3′s sponsorship of Such Tweet Sorrow has proven to be a great way to reward and encourage our users to make the most of their mobiles. The production itself and placement of products within was a much less intrusive way of leveraging our sponsorship. With the production being set in the modern era the use of the mobile was always going to play a significant part for the characters.
As for unreliable connection problems, we can only apologise for the experience you’ve had. 3 has the UK’s biggest (and only 100%) 3G network and we’re investing millions of pounds so that by the end of 2010, our customers will have an even bigger, better and faster network. This means better coverage when it comes to making calls or using the internet on your mobile. 3 also actively encourages the use of internet services and often offers them for free e.g. Skype and Twitter.
So, what do I make of this? Well to be honest, not a great deal. You can’t really expect a company such as 3 to be able to give anything other than some kind of formally written statement. Naturally they would think that they are improving ways in which their users are engaging with the internet and the applications relating to that. But this is only in the hope that those using or considering using 3 as a network, buy into their product with having ‘free internet services’.
As for their sponsoring of the production, I can of course realise that without that form of sponsoring we wouldn’t have gotten the same experience as we have. The use of phones and applications are of course important but it does make me wonder what potential the production could have had on a much more user level, without the sponsorship. How would the production fair across multiple networks and platforms?
Whatever the case may be, I still have a huge dislike to the project, and whilst I am going to class it as an experiment into digital theatre and performance, I only hope that the next project takes on board all the criticism it has received.
**UPDATE 19th May**
A small update regarding the above statement. In the original statement that 3 sent over, they said that The RSC had approached them regarding the project, however it was actually Mudlark. They wish to apologise for any confusion, and I have kindly changed the above statement to reflect this.
So who approached who about what? Yes, it’s complicated, right?