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Cassatt's At the Opera by profzucker.

Research into the  NT live experiment shows just what a success this early stage is. Audiences at  the live streamings in cinemas experience the  ‘live’ experience not just as much as those in the theatre, BUT MORE. And they report even higher levels of emotional engagement than those at the theatre.  My own experience bears this out – you get close to the actors in a way that you can’t in a large theatre. The audience appears to be more diverse, attracting more attenders from lower income brackets at the livestreams than in the theatre, and attracting those for whom attendance at the South Bank would be out of reach.NT live has contributed to the ‘virtual capacity’ of the theatre, with no signs of a cannabilisation of theatre box office income according to the research published by NESTA.

NT live shows how the main stream of our theatres can break through the so-called fourth wall of theatre.

During the last 50 years, theatre makers realised that they could become boxed in by the proscenium arch theatres prevalent in the control- and -command culture of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.  Some began the quest to break the ‘fourth wall’  through creative use of design and directing, so that the actor and audience could engage as directly as possible.  In the 20th century, theatre auditoria which were more intimate were built, from tiny studio theatres like the Traverse to courtyard theatres like the Cottesloe, which took as inspiration the more interactive theatres of Shakespeare’s day, unconstrained by proscenium arches and dress circles.   This escape from the prosc arch has picked up speed in the 21st century, with site specific and interactive work applauded by critics. Even the Theatres Trust trustees have declared prosc arch theatres to be old hat.

Old hat they may be for the avant garde and cutting edge of theatre makers.  But the overall economy of theatre demands that the mainstream of work and audiences meet in the larger theatres, where work on a grand scale can take place and audience can attend in their droves.   And while modern theatre architecture can make light work of the proscenium, like Daniel Libeskind’s Grand Canal Theatre, its still there. And opera glasses may be required if you are at the back of the upper circle.

People like going to the theatre, attendances are up, at least in the West End, and many want to see some of the grand scale work.  Until now, that has meant travelling to the theatre usually in the metropolis,paying a hefty sum and if paying less than the top price,often being too far away from the stage to break through the fourth wall.  The success of NT Live is a game-changing phenomenon.

And thats before 3D is mainstreamed.



The NT live season streamed its second show last night.  All’s Wells that Ends Well is one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem’ plays which is unlikely to be seen by many. Firstly, its a ‘ problem play’ because of its genre defying characteristics and idiosyncracies.  And secondly, the production resources needed to solve the problem – more than met in Marianne Elliot’s wonderful, grim and fantastic fairytale production with very fine performances, a wonderful design and all the creative and technical resources afforded by the National Theatre – are scarcely available outside the NT, RSC, Globe etc.  It simply doesn’t stack up for a regional theatre to produce this play.

So last night the audience for this show was seated not only in the Olivier Theatre but in 70 cinemas throughout Britain. Most of us were seeing a show to which we would not have access otherwise and that is a great thing.  The quality of the experience is fantastic – as an audience you are in the room with the performers, live but also have the advantages of being in great and moving seats, up close.  And, for those of us who live far away from London, we haven’t spent a fortune or increased our carbon footprint.  So it is certainly the way forward for work which our regional theatres won’t or can’t produce.

But its only the beginning.  NT Live is a spearhead for change in theatre programming and participation throughout the UK and for cultural planning.

Taking All’s Well that Ends Well as an example – its just the beginning for other plays by local writers and for participative projects  on What Happens Next or Be careful what you wish for or Why that could never happen in Perth or Why do clever women want men who behave badly etc etc

The next issue to sort out is venues.  We need creative hubs throughout the land, neutral, enabling spaces where live screenings, performances and participative activities can all mingle and mash up with the local communities.  Like the Dukes in Lancaster. The Dukes remodelled itself two years ago, leaving behind the sausage machine of traditional producing theatre to become more open, mixed, varied and connected with Lancaster and Lancashire.  Yesterday the Dukes programme included their own production of  Of Mice and Men, Live Theatre’s Motherland, and a full creative learning programme so couldn’t accomodate the  screening of NT Live in their modest multiplex. But they did screen Phedre and will do more. The  audiences at the Dukes happily browse and buy in all the spaces and are treated to the same standards of ‘customer care’  – or good old Front of House management no matter what the event.

This is in contrast to the Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh which is a fine little cinema – not a creative hub.  Many of us found the queues at the box office frustrating – because only one sales assistant  was on duty, I guess because for movies you dont have all to be there at the beginning and you filter in during the ads.  But the audience at the Cameo last night was a theatre audience and we wanted to be on time!  The queues for the loo were just like at old theatres, so that was familiar.  And the Front of House presence was not the friendly Front of House Manager which most theatres provide, but some very assertive market researchers determining our demographic details.

As the NT live stream flows, we need the venues, the interface with local partners and other advances like letting all the audiences communicate with each other.  Sure we can tweet.  But we should also applaud.

Bring it on.

3d cine

 

We glimpsed a vision for the future of 21st century cultural venues today with 3D screening being the key. Lord Puttnam’s keynote speech at the Edinburgh International Film Festival this morning was inspirational on many fronts. He talked about the power of films to change the world, for film makers to show leadership in tackling issues from climate change to democracy, and about the essential role of educators in media literacy.  And described the action Singapore is taking as part of its competitive creative economy policy which is “20 times more ambitious” than the UK in broadband width and focussed competitive activity.

He also talked about the potential for cinemas in a Digital Britain where cinemas, or cultural venues including a cinema, could be showing the 2012 Olympic games, or live screenings of theatre.

This could the key to 21st century cultural planning or, as someone said in the audience today, “Is 3d cinema the new talkies?”.

We currently have a mess of a cultural infrastructure, particularly in the towns of the UK as opposed to the cities. We have multiplex cinemas, largely soul-less; we have town halls and civic theatres and the occasional arts centre. Anything that is designated a theatre is the subject of a note of conservation interest from the Theatres Trust.

Currently the block in our thinking about change is how we think about theatre.  Theatre is a an artistic event and communal experience which currently can only happen in a room, with actors enacting a drama in a room.  This is expensive and exclusive. 3d live screenings of theatrical events could fundamentally disrupt the business model.  The live performance could be enjoined by many through live 3D screenings.

What we need in towns are creative hubs. Neutral, enabling spaces where we can participate in excellent creative events and discourse.  Digital technology and 3 d cinema is the key to defining how these venues should work.  We need leadership in this creative and cultural planning. In Scotland, Creative Scotland, which will be the public body inheriting both arts and screen agencies as well as creative industries, is in a prime position to do this.