This piece was originally written as an essay for university, this is a greatly shorted version covering the same topic.
The phrase ‘Digitalization of performances’ refers to any theatrical performance, with a live and present audience, that is recorded to be shared later or broadcast live. This is a growing trend in theatre with more and more theatre companies getting involved.
Many theatres, such as the Metropolitan Opera from New York are now broadcasting their work live into cinemas to expand audience and profit despite the fact that the theatre itself is at capacity. The Metropolitan Opera began this trend in 2006 and since then it has grown, with places like the National Theatre following in 2009. This was branded National Theatre Live (NT Live). Other theatres have done similar things, broadcasting their work live and on subsequent dates online and on TV. Numerous sites allow access, for a registration fee, to a catalogue of works like this, such as ‘digitaltheatreplus.com’. This is a website aimed at people who already have an interest in theatre, however other sites can be found which are free but not as specialized on which to view theatrical pieces.
With more and more theatres broadcasting internationally there is the growing ability to sample theatre from other cultures. This can expand cultural awareness as well as political awareness, and potentially help international understanding of different cultures. It is obviously not possible to please all cultures at once with a very stylized piece, so should this continue there is potential for an international genre to be developed, mixing all styles together. An example of this is the UK’s tendency towards political pieces which would not work in China, thus meaning for it to flourish internationally big changes would need to be made. As suggested by the writer for the Guardian, Laura Barnett, in theatre there are not just different styles on stage, but differences in how it is reviewed and discussed it as well. She wrote “opinion seemed to bear the influence of their nationality”, meaning the viewer’s expectations of performances were affected partially by their culture. This could be brilliant, or the first step in losing cultural identities in theatre production styles. It could be argued that it will drastically change theatre as we know it, completely transforming the live experience into something else. While this new style may have some positive features, the variety and cultural flavours of theatre will be gone, changing the live experience forever.
One common issue people are concerned about is whether people who rarely go to the theatre or who have limited budgets for attending theatre, will turn to options such as NT Live and watch broadcasts and similar instead of productions by smaller, regional theatres. In turn this will have the impact of reducing the income of regional theatres and stopping them producing individual works. Independent groups like ‘Nesta’ (a research charity) have researched into this and found when looking at local theatre, attendances of places near a cinema that shows NT Live performances “saw a 5% increase” in sales compared to those outside the given radius which they used as a control group . However as Nesta themselves point out this is not as clear cut as it seems as it is impossible to identify digital theatre as the linchpin in this as there are too many variables that could be impacting on the result. The data does not show if a new audience is being brought in by the broadcasts, or if current audiences are attending and being inspired to watch more theatre because of it. More research is needed to collect enough data to show clear trends. If a new audience is attending the theatre then this is an obvious gateway for people into theatre, and thus is allowing new audiences to develop an interest in theatre. This is great news for the industry; on the other hand if it is simply the same audience going more, this is also good for the industry, however it does not do as much to ensure a future audience.
In conclusion my research suggests that while digital theatre has a place in the theatrical industry, at the moment it poses no threat to live and in-person viewing of performances. However its use and potential in theatre are still developing as it is currently less than a decade old, which compared to how long theatre has been around is a mere moment. Digital theatre still needs to find where it belongs though we are seeing its effects clearly in a boost in attendance at shows, in people experiencing shows they might not otherwise, and in overcoming international borders. From this research I conclude digitalized theatre is currently positive for the industry but needs further research as it may have different long term effects.
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Once again this is just a thought piece and there is much more to the topic than I have covered here but please comment below with any thoughts as I am as keen as ever to learn more from others.
Some of my research places (in reference format I’m afraid, but maybe you prefer that?) :
BARNETT, L. (2013) National theatre: do audience responses play out along country lines? (Online). Accessed: 28/04/15
BOSANQUET, T. (2014) Research finds that NT Live has ‘no negative impact’ on regional theatre going (Online). Accessed: 28/04/15
BUIAN, P. (2009) 5 Questions On Theatres Role In Democracy (Online). Accessed: 28/04/15
DIGITAL THEATRE (2015) Digital Theatre (Online) Accessed: 03/05/15
NESTA. (2014) What impact does live broadcasting have on theatre attendance? (Online) Accessed: 28/04/15
NESTA (N/A) Digital Broadcast of theatre: Learning from the pilot season NT Live (Online) Accessed: 03/05/15