Going Digital: Does theatre work when you're not in the room?

Lizzie Carter, 19 September 2012

Liz Carter from Claque Theatre led the session with participants Lucy from KCC, Louisa from Sparkle and Dark, Cathy from Panek, Pablo, Alex and Sarah Jane.

The discussion opened with questions around whether theatre needs to be in a physical space and how we tell stories, create atmosphere and experiences. We considered the different types of digital technology and its implication for theatre making, audience development and performance. It was noted that digital technology crosses over with the game playing and IT industries. The concerns expressed were that technology can atomise society while theatre seeks to bring people together. Also, are technology producers looking to arts for free content? The argument was that success in using technology in art is the way it is implemented and the following case studies were given from people's own experiences:

- Blue Dragon, Robert Le Page: Using overhead screens and projections during performances. Lots of potential for stimulating great production with high-tech audio visuals.

- Everyday Moments, Fuel Theatre: Podcasts designed for an audience at a particular time and place. Although this does isolate people in their experience as they listen to the audio it gives the content a longer shelf life as can be accessed on-line well after the initial performance.

- Blast Theory: Opportunities for creating theatre communities by sharing digital experiences through on-line discussion.

- Such Tweet Sorry - traditional Romeo and Juliet story through Twitter where audiences follow timelines of character.

- NT Live and The Met: Live streaming. Reaching audiences across continents with UK theatre.

We criticised these case studies in one way on another, we hope constructively. Questions were: Are these theatre pieces and performances in their own right or are they behaving more like research and development tools? What about the collective experience and atmosphere of theatre? Is this threatened?

Our conclusions were as follows:

- Using AV type technology in production is one thing, live streaming and using social media / mobile devices is another. What doesn't change is that we design good theatre first and then use the most appropriate technology based on that purpose.

- Using things like podcasts can give theatre a longer shelf-life as it can be accessed on-line after the event. However, we felt this reduced the value of collective experience and thought that podcasts could be a good publicity tool to sign-post audiences towards communal theatre spaces in then off-line world.

- Social media technology can be designed to provoke interactions, crowdsource ideas

for stories, content and design.

- To achieve good quality live streaming experiences we need the budget. Our concern with live streaming is that theatre starts creeping towards TV.

- Traditionally, we see theatre maker as controller. Going digital liberates this hierarchy.

In summary, going digital involves all types of technology during theatre design, production and performance. By embracing digital technologies and all they have to offer we may become better producers: creating entry points to new theatre audiences and providing a tool for exposure. We are proposing not to replace traditional theatre but to offer valuable experiences with the digital world in mind.


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