The whole world is an audience, whether the theaters are bright or dark
LONDON (Reuters) – For many it is the darkest hour in theater. For others, including Britain’s Royal Shakespeare Company, the lockdown has accelerated the use of technology that has transformed staging and revealed new audiences and business opportunities.
Even before COVID-19 theaters closed, they had distributed recorded performances through theaters for people who couldn’t make it to the West End or Broadway.
The pandemic has turned even the smallest theaters into producers of content that is broadcast far beyond their local communities.
Most say a screen can’t replace a live performance, but many also predict that digital theater is here to stay, and a generation that grew up with computers and smartphones might even prefer it.
The Royal Shakespeare Company says it combines digital skills with traditional art.
Mixed reality productions allow actors to work alongside tech versions of Shakespeare’s most supernatural characters, and digital events have invited audiences around the world to contribute to the action from their computers.
“We are living in R + D at the moment. If we look at what the pandemic has done, it has opened up the future. And that’s the first draft and I think it’s terribly exciting, ”Sarah Ellis, RSC’s director of digital development, told Reuters in an interview.
“We have an audience that’s local to us, but we also have this huge global audience, which has huge potential. “
RSC’s research during the shutdowns found audiences willing to pay for digital content and ready to watch online even when theaters reopen.
Theaters are unanimous in wanting to recreate the tension of a drama as it unfolds.
This meant costly technical teams. But a few months before the pandemic took hold, transformative equipment became available.
It’s known as the Switch and the one that gets the most excitement – as it costs just $ 295 – is the ATEM Mini produced by Blackmagic Design, an Australian company that has worked with RSC and provided technology for blockbusters such as Avatar and Game of Thrones.
It allows switching between four different cameras, which means that a single performance – as opposed to the many takes needed to create a movie – can provide all the angles and close-ups needed. It also allows for quick editing, so that the performances can be shared almost immediately.
Blackmagic founder Grant Petty said he wanted to help new talent by providing easy-to-use technology.
“When I first entered this industry, I found that the creatives were left out and the business people were the ones who ran everything. I just felt it was wrong and that if the equipment was more affordable it would give more power to the creatives, ”he told Reuters.
RENAISSANT FROM ASHES
Theater Charlotte is a small theater that used the Switch to broadcast to audiences across the United States and Canada.
It’s North Carolina’s oldest community theater, but its future is even more uncertain than most after a fire ravaged its 80-year-old headquarters last year.
His previous theaters were also set on fire, forcing actors to perform where they could. Acting Executive Director Chris Timmons said the company has rediscovered “the renewed energy of the theater that is not just a building”.
Timmons expects to continue broadcasting even when the Charlotte Theater has a remodeled venue next year, and can imagine a younger generation less interested in the rituals of pre-show dinners and post-show drinks.
“Maybe we’ll look back in a few years and see that there’s this whole generation out there who’d rather just watch it on a screen than have that other social aspect. I think there is definitely room for both, ”he said.
Michigan-based startup Colvin Theatrical agrees. Founder Cody Colvin says many productions are loss making at the best of times and streaming can solve this problem.
“Basically we’re going to reach a point where ticket sales will no longer pay the bills,” he said, citing rising rents, insurance and other costs.
“The theater will be like sport and like comedy, where there will be a live audience paying a premium to go to the event and then it will be broadcast. This is the only way to evolve.
The live experience will always be hard to beat.
Neil Darlison, director of theater at Arts Council England, said the council supported the use of digital tools to engage larger audiences, but the appetite for live theater was still strong.
“I don’t think streaming is going to be as disruptive to theater as it is to, say, cinema or even music. The USP of theater is the collective experience – which is much more difficult to replicate digitally, ”he said.
Reporting by Barbara Lewis; Editing by Giles Elgood