Digital Theatre in the Physical Theatre

I’ve been thinking for a bit about digital theatre, and how for the last two years the productions that theatre creators have been producing have been the most accessible they have ever been. Since the pandemic started and theatre moved online, plays have been available to people who normally couldn’t access them, either because of physical barriers, or even financial ones. They have allowed people who might not go to the theatre because getting there is too much trouble, or because the venue isn’t accessible. Or it has allowed people for whom the cost of a ticket has been prohibitive to be able to see theatre, possibly for the first time.

We’ve been able to enjoy productions from all over Canada and the world, which is something that we’ve never been able to do before, without travelling to attend in person, which is great! For most of our theatrical history, the Toronto theatre scene has been separated from the Edmonton scene, which is separated from the Saint John theatre scene, and so on. We haven’t been able to experience the amazing theatre taking place around the country, let alone the world. So digital productions have been a wonderful addition to our theatrical experiences, expanding our theatrical horizons.

As we move back into in-person theatre, I worry that we will lose this. I know that there are issues where Equity and ACTRA are concerned, and that’s something for them to work out, but in the indie world, it’s something that can be done, and I would argue should be done.

That means asking venues if they have a high-speed, dedicated internet connection that can be used to live stream. It means asking if they have a single-camera setup, or do they have a multi-camera option, and if they do, is there a live switcher and do they provide an operator? And it’s possible that the theatre you are looking at doesn’t have any of this, or maybe they don’t even know what you’re talking about! But these are important questions to be asking. If enough people ask about it, the venues will have to provide it.

If live-streaming isn’t an option, there’s still a way to broadcast your show using a simulated live option, where you record a performance, and then provide that recording as a scheduled live stream. Let’s say for example that you recorded your opening night performance. You could then use a service like Onstream.live or Streamyard, upload your video and schedule it to broadcast to youtube (for example). In this way, you could have a live re-broadcast of your selected performance streamed one or more times for an audience that can’t make to the venue. And using this method means that you can also have closed captioning available as well!

We have gained so much from sharing our productions, that it would be a shame to lose this connection and this newfound accessibility.’

I’d love to hear about your experiences with digital theatre, and what you think of the possibility of keeping this going as we return to in-person theatre. Tell me all about it in the comments.

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