The Stage on Screen
The Stage on Screen
A visit to the theatre usually involves the scouring of seating plans well in advance, an awareness of what you’ll be sat through prior to the performance and a hefty bit of change for some drinks or ice cream in the interval. Whilst West End musicals tend to demand an overnight stay with a nice meal beforehand, plays don’t seem to attract the same attention. Unless you’re a regular theatre-goer or you’re studying a particular play, there is a definite sense of consciously choosing to spend an evening in a serious and engaging environment. Perhaps it’s the effect of recently seeing The Book of Mormon and revisiting Waiting for Godot not long after, which makes the differences seem so exaggerated.
However, with the popularity of simulcasts, it appears that audiences are flocking to their local cinemas instead of the stage. The National Theatre experimented with the medium in 2009 and has since broadcast its plays to 1,000 venues worldwide, with over half of those in the UK. Allowing productions to reach almost 3 million people is astonishing when you consider the capacity of the theatre itself and the number of performances. The Royal Shakespeare Company followed suit in 2013 and its first broadcast of Richard II was seen by more than 60,000 people. Their aim of providing accessibility both nationally and internationally has exceeded expectations, but can it replace the experience of seeing live theatre?
Of course not. As appealing as it is to go to your local cinema, purchase an extortionately priced bucket of popcorn (perhaps the price of food is something shared by the two types of venue) and sit down to the ‘best seat in the house’ view of War Horse, there will never quite be the same atmosphere as in the cinema. Despite this obvious difference, the technology used in delivering the hybrid experience is extraordinary. The process is a very complex one which demands enormous planning and scripting to ensure that the 800 shots or more are seamless. No wonder each screening costs the theatres over £50,000 to broadcast.
Evidently this expenditure hasn’t been going to waste. Research has shown that there has been an increase in the attendance of younger and lower-income audiences. This promotion of drama to new audiences is certainly a contrast to the popularity of on demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Instant. It’s clear that people are making the most of novel forms of entertainment which guarantee a communal experience as well as thrilling performances. Where else are you expected to clap, cheer and give a standing ovation? No matter how many episodes of The Good Wife you watch, you’ll never get the same atmosphere of being in a packed audience.
Even in a climate which is well-known for budget cuts towards the arts, theatres have been resourceful when it comes to spreading the medium. Not unlike the live episodes of Eastenders which were on recently, each performance is advertised like a spectacle that you are encouraged to take part in. The live element really is that, and you will be witnessing the performances just as you would if you were sat in the stalls. Although hashtags probably haven’t infiltrated their publicity campaigns (surely having your phone out during a play is frowned upon?) quite in the same way, their experimental approach to create a communal experience that can reach far and wide is truly innovative.
Whether or not you’re a fan of the theatre, there has never been a better time to take a chance on a play. This may just be the future of theatre.
Written by Victoria Rodrigues O’Donnell