Can Theatre Truly Be Streamed?
Ariane Joudrey discusses the implications that streaming theatrical productions may have on the experience of the viewer and how this may influence the way in which people respond to the return of live theatre
Due to the Coronavirus lockdown, entertainment industries have been making efforts to change how their audience can consume their content. Many of the factors which make the live entertainment industry so special have been removed, leaving organisers attempting to make experiences just as special, whether that be through technology, and/or exclusivity.
The theatre industry is likely to be one of the main participants in the sector which will struggle the most. Since theatres are usually fairly small rooms with seating crammed to the max to increase profits, sadly, the return of live theatre is not in the immediate future.
As a result, many theatre companies have taken to uploading streams of previous show recordings, often for free. These recordings enable theatre audiences to get their theatrical fix in the comfort and safety of their own homes. However, this streaming approach has been criticised by many for not being the organic and unique experience that theatre-going should be.
“Streaming theatre performances removes the feeling of community which is felt within a theatre, being the one group of people to view that individual live performance.”
Streaming theatre performances removes the feeling of community which is felt within a theatre, being the one group of people to view that individual live performance. It feels exclusive and unique. Instead, audiences are aware that thousands of other people will also be clicking that link and watching that performance in exactly the same way, from exactly the same angles. Whereas, a bonus in live theatre performances, is that you only see the stage from the perspective of your seat, and therefore you may witness the play in a unique way that other members of the audience can’t.
Furthermore, it is worth noting the experience of the actors as well as the audience. Performing live theatre enables actors to feed off the responses and energy of the audience during the production, forming a live connection and reinforcing the sense of community that theatre can provide. Watching theatre online removes this special bond as the performance was not intended to be viewed by such a wide audience as it receives.
“the form of theatre still remains the same in that it is still recorded in one take, it is still confined to the size of the stage as it was when first performed, the way that lighting, sound, and silence are used can still be significant because they can still be recorded.”
Some critics have argued that streaming theatre degrades its charm merely to that of TV. However, the form of theatre still remains the same in that it is still recorded in one take, it is still confined to the size of the stage as it was when first performed, the way that lighting, sound, and silence are used can still be significant because they can still be recorded. Where TV has the capacity to use animations and CGI, theatre relies on visual and audio trickery. Although watching through streaming may diminish this experience, these techniques still prove to be effective in evoking similar responses.
As streaming theatre has been successful, even before lockdown when companies such as RSC live streamed to cinemas around the country, there is of course some concern that people will not return to theatre in the traditional fashion, and thus putting traditional companies and historical organisations at risk.
The key thing that is missing from streamed theatre is the individuality of performance and the community feel. The question is whether that is important enough for audiences to return to organic theatre when the time is right.