Is theatre going down the YouTube?

Theatre exists as a live medium, every aspect unique to the live experience.  The communal, social aspect, the feeling of connection with the actors on stage, all militates against it being successfully transferred to video. Yet, there are all manner of clips from plays and musicals online, but is the internet really a help, or instead a hindrance to the stage?

Producers had previously not worried about shaky camera-phone clips of their shows on video sharing sites such as YouTube, however, the fast increasing volume of clips is now beginning to ruffle feathers. The concern is simple, that they don’t want an alternative way for their audiences (or potential audiences) to consume their product without paying – a familiar tune in the music industry. But are these poor quality clips really going to decrease audiences? Entertainment union Equity however, have a slightly different concern. Currently, artists featured in promotional videos, theatrical trailers and online viral advertising are not paid royalties. One has to question however, whether these clips actually do anything for the artists they feature; particularly when they are filmed as a live medium and not for the camera. Recently, Patti LuPone starring in Gypsy on Broadway stopped the show when an audience member dared to take a photograph. What is even more wonderful is that someone was illegally recording the performance and so caught the outburst forever. Interestingly it was on YouTube but as I came to place the link here, I discovered it has been removed by the Actors Equity Association. However, never fear! Here is an hilarious re-enactment by one YouTube user: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUzYBZ8AlxY.

The National Theatre announced last month that it will broadcast live performances to cinemas around the world to widen its audience and test the public’s response to watching stage plays onscreen. There are currently four simulcasts planned, beginning in June with a performance of Jean Racine’s tragedy Andre starring Dame Helen Mirren and Mamma Mia heartthrob, Dominic Cooper. The performance will be broadcast to 50 cinemas throughout the UK and within 24 hours, screened at a further 100 cinemas in countries including the US and Canada. Artistic director Nicholas Hytner has admitted that it is a ‘gamble’.

“There’s a danger it might feel theatrical in all the wrong ways, we simply don’t know.

“Somebody’s got to try this, and if somebody’s got to try it, it has to be us.”

However, could audiences become comfortable with watching stage plays onscreen? Moreover, could the filming of these performances lead to full length videos made available illegally. Surely then we have a different worry.

These are all very new issues that can only develop further as the internet continues to expand. The question now is how we might usefully go about presenting theatre online in video. Online trailers for shows have seen a recent increase and are now becoming almost commonplace. These trailers can provide an invaluable marketing tool, genuinely exciting audiences and potentially also accessing the younger, technology focussed demographic theatres strive to attract. Surely the illegal videos work in a very similar way and are they therefore, really such a bad thing?

On another level, choreographer Arlene Phillips recently discussed how she has used YouTube to search for Hip-Hoppers for the German production of Starlight Express. Could this mean that someone who uploads a video of themselves warbling along to One Day More, could be called up to audition?

YouTube gives a real sense of hope for the future of theatre existing online. How producers, entertainment unions and performers approach and manage this will be an interesting aspect of the future.

theatreJunki © 2009

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