Monday, July 30, 2012

Online Theatre Grows in Popularity

In what may seem like an odd concept, filmed theatre performances are growing in popularity. When they were trialed at the Camden Fringe Festival they received an average of 500 viewers per show. The shows comprised of plays, dance and comedy and reportedly 5-7% of people said they would be willing to pay for the privilege in future.

Some theatre producers are already seizing the oppurtunity to put recordings of their performances online, along with rehearsal footage and even 'trailers' for new plays. Here the similarities between theatre and film become interchangeble in the complete lack of 'live' setting which is arguably why people watch plays not films. But the case study of the Camden Fringe tells a different story of people who are willing to see something new and unusual online.

When something is filmed 'live' it can be edited and saved for further viewings whilst still retaining its energy and spontaneity. Stand-up comics regularly film their performances with a few cameras, edit it well and then put it to DVD with great success. Other forms of performance may not transcend so well, especially more serious drama that requires a believbility that would be removed by the containment of a screen. When viewers are used to seeing drama filmed on-location then it may also seem flat in a theatre setting.

Gauging by the popularity of recent shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Glee!, the more glitzy and spectacular forms of theatre may transfer better to the smaller screen. Musical theatre in particular would film well as it is a very visual medium providing treats for the eyes and ears as well as the soul.

The reality of installing technical equipment and requiring actors to wear mics may limit some smaller theatres' capability to produce these shows well. The cost involved may be a better investment for these theatres than the larger ones though, as it is often the smaller theatres with riskier productions and less well-known actors that struggle to fill seats.

The Pilot theatre in York has already grasped this concept with their Pilot Live Project, which streams live performances for a 'virtual box office' fee. The immediacy of live streaming may seem advantageous for this new medium's appeal but would be a shame for it to be so time-restricted when almost all other media can be accessed on-demand. Plus due to the large amount of media that is accessible for free, legally or otherwise, it may discourage potential real box-office takers who may use the experience to try-before-they-buy.

For example, the TED technology, entertainment and design lectures were originally only accessible by ticket holders who would pay thousands to see some of the leading thinkers from around the world spread their ideas. Then the founders decided to film all the lectures and put them online, for free. They have their own YouTube channel and have found since this sharing of their work the real talks have been selling-out faster than ever. The Royal Society of Arts has followed suit, but added animated 'illustrations' to their lectures that really add to the audience's understanding of the talk.

There is real potential for this idea to promote the live arts when it is done well. The idea of charging for it might not sit well with viewers used to free media elsewhere, but a 'pay-what-you-want' scheme like many music artists use could work effectively. Either way, other 'live' arts are already doing it with positive results. Moving with the times could seriously help theatre gain popularity in the real world as well as the online one.
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