Theatre folk are creatures of habit, believers of superstition and followers of tradition. They never mention the title of Shakespeare's "Scottish play" inside a theatre. It's bad luck to say "good luck" on opening night. And then there's the 62-year-old tradition of the Gypsy Robe, which, with the opening of each new Broadway musical, is passed on to the chorus member with the most credits. But there's a new tradition that's slowly emerging in the Broadway community and beyond — a new trend born of the smart-phone age.
Saturday Intermission Pics — that's Twitter hashtag #SIP — are spreading like wildfire on social networking sites thanks to Newsies' Andrew Keenan-Bolger (@KeenanBlogger) and Evita's Max von Essen (@MaxizPad).
"#SIP started three years ago," says Keenan-Bolger. "I was on tour with Mary Poppins and some friends were on other tours, including my friend Max [von Essen], who was on the road with Xanadu. We were all in Chicago at the same time."
He doesn't remember who originated the idea, he says, but they "all took candid pictures during a Saturday intermission backstage — and agreed to post them on Twitter." What seemed to be a goofy experiment did, in fact, have a purpose, he adds: "Our goal was to get Broadway and regional shows to join in, so we could 'trend.'"
The initial trial wasn't immediately successful. But now, three years later, Keenan-Bolger and von Essen are not only featured in two of Broadway's hottest shows, but they have more than 18,000 Twitter followers combined — suggesting the time for a new tradition is now.
"We really didn't keep up with it until several weeks ago," von Essen says. "I suggested to Andrew we start it up again here on Broadway...and it took off like crazy!"
From Andrew and his fellow Newsies spelling out the hashtag #SIP with their bodies backstage to the more scandalous and "natural" shot or obligatory Ricky Martin cameo (cue Max), #SIP has become a Broadway tradition that's definitely trending.
In addition to the Broadway personnel, actors from London's West End and around the world are continuously tweeting #SIPs.
"To instantly connect with so many people and to show theatre fans a bit of what happens backstage, whether it's candid or totally set up for fun, is amazing," says von Essen. "The audience isn't allowed back here, obviously, and I think they really get a kick out of this glimpse into backstage life."
Recently, #SIPs were posted from Madrid's production of The Lion King and Vienna's production of Sister Act.
So what's next for this weekend ritual?
"I've been thinking about a #SIP [smart-phone] app for weeks now," says von Essen, "but I know nothing about that kind of stuff. Andrew's the genius, let's get him on that."
Check out a gallery featuring some of our favorite recent #SIP tweets:
(Frank DiLella is the theatre reporter for NY1 News. Follow him on Twitter @fdilella.)
Addicted to theatre-releated tweets? Playbill Vault has compiled a list of Twitter accounts of Broadway shows and theatre people.
Playbill is on Twitter @Playbill, @PlaybillVideo, @PlaybillVault, @PlaybillClub. The following editorial staffers are in on the act, too: @PlaybillMattB (Playbill.com photo editor Matt Blank), @PlaybillBlake (Playbill magazine editor Blake Ross), @PlaybillKenneth (Playbill.com managing editor Kenneth Jones) and @PlaybillMichael (Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia).