To Stream or Not To Stream

Martin Sheen Being Awesome Recently Clay Lord wrote on his blog about the rise of recorded theatrical performances and what can be lost and gained from this practice.  Lord states at one point “broadcasting live performance is what soap operas and early sitcoms did for fifty years, and that if you’re talking about such things you’re really just talking about, well, television. “  I don’t know if that’s 100% true.  Is this strange hybrid any less valuable?  Will audience members simply never return to a live theatre just because they can On Demand the performance?

One of his commenters says it best, “It seems that the arts are in a constant struggle between preservation and innovation.  In an ideal environment, both would be equally valued and both would be equally funded.”  While I think we can all safely agree that the live, in-the-room experience is what initially captivated each of in regards to theatre, I don’t know that it means that it is truly an Either/Or situation.  I remember wearing out my treasured taped-from-PBS video of the Original Broadway production of Into the Woods 20 years ago.   Was I in the same room as Bernadette Peters?  No.  Was I technically watching TV?  Yes.  Do these two things mean that this experience was not valuable and meaningful to me?  Of course not.  Was it theatre?  I don’t know.  Does it matter?

Over the weekend, Dustin Lance Black’s play about Prop 8 was livestreamed on Youtube and attracted 200,000 viewers.  Click the link to read about it and watch the entire play.  I watched the reading the following day and am thrilled that I got that opportunity.  I never would have experienced this performance otherwise.   Dozens of major movie stars read from scripts on a simple stage with no cuts, edits, or second takes.  It felt like theatre to me.  It moved me the same way.   Although I wasn’t in Wilshire Ebell Theatre in LA did it “not count”?

I realize that I couldn’t look where ever I wanted at any given time.  Yes, my eye was still being directed by a camera, I was not sitting in a darkened room with hundreds of other people sharing the moment.      But I still got to see something amazing that I would not have otherwise seen.  That’s valuable.  Diane Ragsdale weighs in on what she terms the “nostalgia” and the “preponderance of rather deadly small-scale teledramas that pass as ‘dynamic live theater’”

From a recent article in The Guardian:
“Do audiences want online theatre? Yes, on the evidence of a project conducted for the 2011 Camden Fringe Festival….the project involved the streaming of 18 performances from the festival — including plays, dance and comedy — which pulled in an average audience of 500 viewers per show. What’s more, accompanying research suggested between 5% and 7% of audiences were willing to pay for such content.  Streamed theatre is still an underdeveloped (for some, unknown) tool and most producers are yet to grasp its full potential. But at a time when it can be difficult to fill venues, it represents a new way of helping the box office pull in additional revenue.” 

Other media forms are constantly asking themselves “What is watching television in 2012?  What is DVD rental in 2012?  What is buying and listening to music in 2012?”  Sometimes I feel like we in the theatre keep sitting around waiting for Other People to magically change and realize how great we are rather than look at what we do and see how We can change to reach Them first.

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About jjstagesource

Jeremy Johnson is the Member Services Mananger at StageSource and has been since graduating Emerson College in 2000. He has also worked as a freelance director throughout New England at companies including Gloucester Stage, Foothills Theatre, Stoneham Theatre, The Theater Offensive, Mill 6 and Boston Directors' Lab. He's worked backstage at "Blue Man Group" and onstage at "Shear Madness". His production of "Speech & Debate" at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston won the 2009 Elliot Norton Award for Best Production for a Mid-Size Company. He has also taught at The Cambridge School of Weston, Beaver Country Day School, Gann Academy, The Winsor School and Walnut Hill School for the Arts.
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2 Responses to To Stream or Not To Stream

  1. anita lauricella says:

    I like this post for two reasons. First, it notes that theater is not alone in needing to ask fundamental questions about its form. A NPR discussion this afternoon focused on the need for film to make fundamental technological changes to give people a reason to decide to go to the movies rather than sit home with a netflicks account. And really important we have to take the lead and ask the questions and explore. Who knows what we’ll find. Could be the journey will be more exciting than the answers.

  2. Jeff Poulos says:

    I’m glad you include in the conversation questions that we need to ask ourselves. I’m disappointed in the purists that refuse to consider alternative ways to present/consume/experience theatre – as if this art form is so sacred that changes to it are forbidden AND as if one type of way theatre is presented has to be the only way. Kind of mirrors the same-sex marriage question, no? I watched “Prop 8: the play” live-streamed and felt an excitement because I was watching it “live”, because it was more theatre than television, and, well, because the material was so personal to me. I also appreciated that perhaps some people were intrigued enough by this streamed performance to then actually sample something live – maybe when Prop 8 is presented in their hometown, or some other piece? I’m an advocate for at least talking about the opportunities, changes, differences – rather than refuse to have the conversation (hello, anti-Twitter in the theatre people – not that I’m advocating for that, but I’d be interested to hear more about those that embrace it, how it impacts their work, etc.). Thanks for posting this…

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