Ok, so before I begin this, there is no questions that this C-19 and lockdown is horrendous for the arts and for actors, musicians, theatre makers and so on. BUT I want to try and think of some positives so that is what this is about.
I have been speaking to a lot of people recently about how “this” will all affect things in the future. These have included how will it effect the way we work – will we all work from home more? How will it affect the views on home schooling? But the one which is the most interesting from our point of view is how will we consume culture and make theatre in the future? I guess much of this is being considered with the view that we might be in lock down for a while longer. But what about after that? How will, this affect theatre long term?
The other reason I began thinking about this is because last week I attended a fabulous reading of a play, Night of the Living by Dave Lankford, performed by House of International Theatre (HIT)
Afterwards there was a Q&A to get the audience talking about how it worked, how it could be developed for the future and what would make the experience of theatre in this format better.
One of the other questions was about how they could make theatre for Zoom or other streaming services. Some people suggested using backgrounds, others suggested putting up sets, some people thought props might help. What about adjusting the lighting in the room?
Do it plain and simple just as HIT did that night. Why make it complicated and more difficult for yourself? The joy of this type of theatre is it gives those who don’t have a massive budget for fancy tech, lighting, costume or sets to share their talents. Currently we are more forgiving for a few mishaps over the internet but actually, so far I have found that experiencing the theatre in this much more raw way, is wonderful.
We get to experience something different from that which we normally would. We are up close to the actors, seeing their expressions and hearing every quiver in their voice. Distracting from that with bad Zoom backgrounds or the actor trying to switch out backdrops or having a spare pair of hands to turn lights on and off or hand over props – it is all a bit much. Sure, if you have the money, the tech know how and the people do something fancy, but that adds cost and overheads which, right now, are unlikely to be coverable. But in my opinion, this cleaner, more raw way is better.
This is the second of this type of show I have seen as I watched The Show Must Go Online, set up specifically for these times. They are reading a Shakespeare play each week. I loved listening to the words and seeing their faces rather than concentrating on fancy sets of costumes and HIT’s performance has just cemented that this is a good way to do theatre when other options are not.
The other thing that I hope carries on from this is companies both continue to make theatre specifically for online viewing and that those who can afford to go back to performing in theatres will stream their content online.
Yes, I am someone who thinks certain shows do not work unless you are there experiencing it (unpopular opinion alert – I did not like One Man Two Guvnors on TV but I did enjoy it at the theatre), but don’t you think it is great right now that absolutely anyone can see these shows? And, almost any show they like. Opera, ballet, modern plays, Shakespeare, musicals – whatever you want, it is available. Those of us lucky enough to live or work around London or have a good local theatre might get the chance to go and see shows more often but for many they are too far away or too expensive. Or what about people who cannot get childcare or who work odd hours.
Even better is that I can, as I did last week, watch a play being put on in Copenhagen, written by someone in Texas, watched by people from all over the world and share my thoughts with them after.
And for the actors, they can perform with other actors anywhere in he world, people they might never otherwise have got the chance to work with.
Distance, cost and personal circumstances – none of this matters in the same way now that it is all online. And that is a plus for everyone.
Now, of course, we need to consider the actors and those working behind the scenes and the fact that they need to earn a living. I am certain that people would be willing to pay for tickets to attend shows virtually but these would inevitably be far more affordable. And I am nor saying this will replace the theatre long term – nothing will replace going to the theatre – BUT it is a good alternative
Culture is important and it allows us to be creative, to escape for a brief moment to somewhere else and to experience new things, and I really do hope that we will be able to continue experiencing it online.
So for now, why not (virtually) gather some friends, get dressed up (or don’t), get some bubbles (or a cuppa) and some fancy olives (or a piece of toast) and sit on your sofa and enjoy shows that you otherwise might not have a chance to see.
I will be reviewing Night of the Living soon but if you would like more information about House of International Theatre go to their Facebook page. The actors were Joseph Sherlock, Jessica O’Hara Baker and Vanessa Pool Jonson
I also mentioned The Show Must Go Online (the name of which was chosen weeks before Andrew Lloyd Webber launched his musical streaming YouTube Channel). Go and take a look at their readings of Shakespeare. They’re on weekly and there are 4 currently available to rewatch.