Digital culture - should theatre embrace it or define itself as something different?

Chris Edwards, 22 September 2012

We talked first about using digital channels to market theatre. We recognised that social media are now essential marketing tools, and can support audience engagement. We felt that more companies could create video trailers for new shows, for the web and for screening in venues, though there are cost and time issues for smaller companies.

We had a lively discussion about HD broadcasts. These can bring high quality productions to new audiences, and seem to be genuinely popular with audiences, who see them as cheap theatre rather than expensive cinema. However, there is a big danger that they will damage attendance at regional theatres; and some risk that (in areas like Hampshire) they will become a preferred alternative to going to the NT etc, even by those who could afford the travel costs. More significantly, we questioned whether the HD relay is a genuine theatre experience, given that there is no interaction with the performers. We feared that the demands - financial, technical and artistic - of the whole HD enterprise (sic) will inevitably change (compromise) the live performances, and found examples of this in lighting and performance styles. Being led by the camera rather than the house, HD is essentially cinema. We also looked at how HD is strenghtening global brands (Met, NT, Bolshoi etc), operating as a super league (the football analogy is frighteningly appropriate) quite divorced from (but exploitative of) local / regional companies.

We felt much happier about the integration of digital content with live performance - perhaps the most exciting thing to happen in theatre for decades. But ‘integration’ is key, and whilst some of the most effective, memorable productions make great use of technology, it can be used as a gimmick. Theatre's distinctive offer remains the live, physical interaction of performer and audience - but that can and increasingly will happen in a convergent environment.

Finally, we asked whether it is now realistic to expect the digital generation to sit in a dark space for 2 hours, focused entirely on one “stream”.


e-marketing, Digital, digital, HD live