It’s an inevitability, I suppose. When we’re all talking about how to save theatre, how to adapt theatre to the persistent technological climate change that all the kids are gettin’ down with, about how to reach new audiences and turn them on to that old thing we love…it comes up. Invariably.
“We could film it and put it on the internet.”
The crew over at the promising new Verb Theatre blog recently posted about a new British site called “Digital Theatre” (a term already in use in progressive theatre practices, btw), which offers access to high-quality filmed versions of plays (that have already closed) for about 15 buck a pop, promising: “…multiple camera angles and high-definition technology to bring you closer to the drama and emotion of each production.” There it is. So the question becomes: for theatre, is closer close enough?
I jumped into the comments section pretty readily, I always have a strong emotional reaction to this topic for some reason. It makes me feel a bit fuddy-duddy actually, and perhaps it is some puritanical, romantic notion that I can’t shake. But it would probably be the only regressive opinion I hold on new theatre. I feel – have always felt – that theatre only works when you and your audience share the same physical space, I believe that’s what makes it unique and a thing of wonder, and where theatre’s unique ability to pierce right into the centre of you comes from. And I believe in film as an artistic medium too, it has a beauty and a power and a language all its own that should be respected, what do we really gain from a hybrid of the two? Is it a new art form unto itself? And if it is, where does its power lie?
A caveat: I look at this question – as I always do – from an audience-building perspective. Does this help get the uninitiated into the stalls? Is this solely an insiders endeavor? The theatre nerd in me gets giddy at the prospect of seeing theatre that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to because of geography. I had the honour and delight of watching the performance and production of a great friend I’ve never met face-to-face (because of geography) when his company tried an experiment in live-streaming theatre. I was rapt and over the moon, but I still felt in the end that it was a beggar’s banquet, and that I didn’t get the full impact of the artists and the art form. That I was watching something other than the audience members who got to be in the room. Is that the marketing pitch for it right there? I honestly don’t know.
This is the crux of the thing here, from my rant on Verb:
The big challenge, the really big challenge faced by theatre as an art form right now is that while all the other disciplines are rapidly becoming cheaper and easier to work in, live performance remains untouched by technology. Writers blog and self-publish, musicians can cut CDs on a mac, digital painting is indiscernible from oils. But venue and performer fees remain the same, there’s no download (outside of the tech booth, but that’s a component, not the art) that’s going to help us memorize lines and discover intention and project. I think we should use this one great uniqueness in the wide and wonderful world of art to our advantage and press it as a selling point, instead of offering watered-down versions of our art to the rest of the world.
But is this way off base? Seriously, am I being a fuddy-duddy? Is this the way we’re going to co-opt the internet to move us forward? Or to put it another way: just because we can, does that mean we should? Thoughts?