Now the best seats in the house for Shakespeare – at a cinema near you?

Following hot on the heels of NT Live, Opus Arte has announces that productions  from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre will now also be accessible  in cinemas throughout the UK and abroad.

The Opus Arte 2009/10 season also includes world class productions from the Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne,  Madrid’s Teatro Real and Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu as well as concerts from the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge.  Opus Arte claims:

“Recorded in High Definition and true Surround Sound these performances from the world’s great stages give you an experience as vivid and as ambient the best seats in the house”

As the work of world class brands becomes more and more accessible, regional theatres will have more opportunities to diversify and free up resources.

Its part of the programming balance in a regional theatre to present world classics and Shakespearian productions but this is a costly business.    The cost of mounting a Shakespearian production or major classical production in our regional theatres varies.   So does the cultural success of the productions, in terms of the specific resonances and connections to local audiences through the production and the quality of the production.

But if a regular supply of excellent productions of Shakespeare and classics becomes available at a nearby cinema, then theatres could free some of their resources into the streams of theatre that are very specific to their audiences.  Collaborative work, participative and community work, research and development are all costly activities which tend to be subordinate to putting on the big productions but which embed theatres into their communities and allow them to take artistic risks.

Cinemas should be the bed rock of cultural planning for the 21st century.      In their inherent neutrality, they are more democratic and accessible than theatres, concert halls and opera houses.  The network of cinemas streaming opera and theatre live does not cover the whole of the UK at the moment, but it could.

It remains to be seen how much more diverse the audiences will be for Shakespeare and opera  in cinemas than they have been in  theatres, where audiences in regional theatre overall have remained static and lacking in diversity over the last five years at least.  Removing the barriers of cost and location and providing more certainty as to the quality through the assurance associated with household names should surely open up the experience to a wider audience.

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2 comments
  1. Pmull said:

    Um…. I thought theatre required live actors in front of a live audience? If digital reproductions can be so realistic, then why do we shut all of the art museums too? Can’t we just take really good pictures of the art and publish it somewhere? Isn’t that the same thing?

  2. Live transmissions are not a substitute for live theatre productions but a great addition. We have to get real about changes to the economy – less public sector subsidy available; and societal and climate changes which means that many of us are less inclined or able to travel and pay for a night out in the theatre. Its only financially viable for a regional theatre to put on a Shakespeare or classic if the theatre is a large house and the cast size and production resources are modest. And even then, few regional houses would want to produce more than 1 or 2 Shakespeares per year in a mixed programme, and then its more than likely they will choose a major tragedy or comedy on the school syllabus. So the chances are slim of any one mounting, say Alls Well That Ends Well. So the NT live transmission of this is a gift. It allows more audiences more access to a great production of a play they wouldnt see otherwise.
    Sure, if there were more and more subsidy available we wouldnt be having this conversation maybe. Or if theatre attendances across the country were growing or becoming more diverse. But they aren’t.

    Theatre needs to be able to adapt to the times and that means a plurality of platforms. The opportunities offered by digital technology are an opportunity to extend transmission, access and choice; not a threat.
    And this extends to visual art as well – museums and art galleries are digitising collection and making them accessible as an addition, not a substitute

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