Streamed live theatre

AmbITion Forums Digital Doctor Streamed live theatre

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    Profile photo of David Bolton
    David Bolton

    The National Theatre has been streaming live video of productions to cinemas around the country (and world). Response to the experiment has been claimed positive – in that audience numbers have been good.

    Has anyone here been to see any of the streamed productions? What was your overall impression?

    Did the fact that it was being shown “live” influence your decision to go? If it had just been a screening of a filmed/recorded stage production, would you have still gone?

    Were there any advantages in seeing it via camera/projection rather than being in the theatre audience? (e.g. sound quality, ability to see close-ups of actors)

    Were there any disadvantages? (e.g. restricted choice over where to look, loss of feeling of “connection” with the actors?)

    Did you find yourself longing for the use of filmic techniques, such as rapid jump-cuts between scenes, and external landscape shots?



    Checkout too. What’s your reason for being interested in this? Thinking about it? Studying it? It’d be good to know :-)


    Hi David
    I think this is an interesting development and I am booked to go see Nation (which I hear is a great show) at Clapham Picturehouse on the 31st Jan to see if it works.

    Will report back …


    Hi David

    Pilot Theatre have streamed live aspects of their activity. As a conversation curator I do find the engagement from views on stream is fascinating. Chit chat in the IM is a joy.

    My blog post from My Child – live streamed in 2008
    PCM creative in action: Pilot Theatre – This Child – Live On line

    When managing a live stream I always prep links to the website, PR materials, cast biogs etc as they frequently come up in chat room conversation.

    My favourite comments include
    “So nice to watch theatre and have my cat on my lap”
    “Cool lighting change”
    “Ooo who is that actor, he’s fit!”

    At the end of the performance I was able to direct views directly, via a link to the forum on the Pilot website and ask them to comment. I did ask them if they knew Pilot’s work. Many did not they came to the stream from Twitter, one viewer was in fact a whole class of children who were watching from their school and all said if Pilot came to town they were definitely more likely to go see them now than before. We also had viewer who have never seen live theatre. We also had comments about how surprised they were by the experience of seeing live theatre streamed. The online chat needs monitoring if this is to work. It’s very rewarding and a very different experience. No replacement for being at a venue, in an audience but for some it’s enough to entice them to the next live event.

    Pilot streamed Catcher in their Eye at last years Shifthappens event (Qik cast) views reactions to the stream.

    Whole new audience opportunity.

    I prefer wide fixed view. A window on the venue. As a promotion tool to bring in audiences it is ground breaking. If it is edited for specific online viewing and potentially stored for on-demand playback there are performance contractual issues that the industry needs to address. If it is an additional revenue stream how is that revenue distributed?

    Profile photo of Anne Bonnar
    Anne Bonnar

    I have watched the NT Live streams and seen work which I wouldnt have had a chance to otherwise. 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.

    I think the next developments need to be around how all of us audiences across the UK (and abroad) can somehow connect to each other, to be part of the audience. With the development of 3D cinema, and cameras within each auditorium, you can see how this could happen.

    Profile photo of David Bolton
    David Bolton

    Many thanks for all the interesting replies.

    In answer to Hannah, it doesn’t form a direct part of my studies, I’m just interested in implications for the development of theatre in general. Plus, I’m quite interested in the foibles & nuances of the technology itself. And some of it even comes from discussions about using video as an instruction tool when training actors for stage work.

    For me, the issues are not just ones of “video verses live” or “good/bad for audience development?” – as there are deeper technological and aesthetic niceties which can skew the arguments in various directions.

    For instance, as mentioned above, there currently seems to be two general methods of capturing stage productions for streaming:

    The NT appears to favour the multi-camera studio technique, which was pioneered for TV in the 50s & early 60s. It allows for “hot switching” between cameras, to get a mixture of close-ups and whole scene shots – “enhancing” the viewer’s visual perception of the piece. Of course it isn’t cheap to do – as it needs several expensive studio cameras, with experienced operators, and a high-tech control desk with a skilled controller. This technique is still used today for filming sitcoms, and chat shows, in front of live audiences (although edited for broadcast). But in the 50s/60s it was the main method for filming dramas – and was mainly broadcast live. Even when taped, the poor editing technology of the day meant that the tape simply recorded the “live stream” from the control desk for delayed transmission (and was wiped afterwards).

    The other approach, as Caron described, is a kind of “virtual proscenium” – whereby a single camera has a fixed view of the performance area, and transmits the image as seen by one member of the audience. This, of course, is much cheaper to do – but I would guess that the results could be very disappointing if viewed on a small screen. It also means that sound can’t be captured using boom mics (as used with close-up camera shots) – although possibly the signal from mics set up for audio loop transmission might be good enough. (Caron, how did Pilot handle sound in Catcher?)

    (BTW the above isn’t the same as when, say, the BBC talk about making “single camera” programmes – as they are referring to the cinema technique of filming scenes in lots of separate “takes”, from different angles, and creating the final piece though skilful editing. Apologies to people who know all this.)

    There is also an issue over how far you “modify” the stage production to enable it to work well with cameras. For instance, a set design and lighting scheme that works well for an audience, in the auditorium, may look dreadful to the remote viewer who may be subjected to multi-camera “switching” and close-ups. In this case, a “virtual proscenium” could work better – although it might have to be seen on a large screen (preferably projected) for the best effect.

    One fear I have is that once the novelty wears off, people could actually be put-off plays, as the end result may look crude when compared to pieces written, designed, directed and acted specifically for camera. Because of this, I could see a great temptation to “reinvent cinema” so as to make the production look good on screen – but once this happens, the actual stage version could seem dull and slow in comparison.

    Funnily enough, a couple of years ago Mike Leigh was interviewed about the 1970s television recording of Abigail’s Party. It was essentially the stage play, but with some scenes removed to shorten it, and a few modifications to get around broadcast rights issues. It was filmed in typical “play for today” studio style, using multiple cameras, and in (more or less) one long take. Leigh was actually appalled at the quality of the recording, as there were instances of the lighting being wrong for particular camera angles, and the boom mic even appeared in shot on at least one occasion. He had really wanted to reconfigure the play into a proper “screen adaptation”, and shoot/edit the piece as a TV film – but there wasn’t time (Alison Steadman was pregnant, so it was all done in a hurry). However, what people actually remember is the performance – not the shooting style – so perhaps audiences care far less about video techniques than film makers do.

    Anyway, I’m also hoping to see Nation on the 30th (at the Manchester showing), although at the moment I’ve got an awkward clash. It’s a pity the screening is a one-off



    Sound quality aside. The point of being live is that you get to take part. If you don’t get that opportunity there is no point to it being live? Just an a side. Other wise it might as well go for production values, edits, camera angles etc. Did get a chance to comment or remark? Was there an expectation to do so? There has to be a point to live arts and especially conferences or seminars. Two way engagement.

    Profile photo of David Bolton
    David Bolton

    Yes – spot on. In the theatre you are part of the production. The actors hear your laughs, your gasps, your applause (as does everyone else in the audience). The NT Live experience is entirely one-way. That is probably why it felt like a recording.

    Interestingly, at the end of the performance, when the audience at the NT were applauding, there was complete silence in the cinema. What is the point in applauding if the actors & crew can’t hear you? (and I know that in the USA cinema audiences applaud – but that is just peer pressure…. 😉

    And no – there was no opportunity for any kind of feedback (as far as I could see).


    Hi David

    I saw Nation at the Clapham Picturehouse (in London) on Saturday and was very impressed. Even though I could have gone to the National to see the event I was interested in seeing the NT Live experience.

    My answers to your questions you posed:

    Q: Did the fact that it was being shown “live” influence your decision to go?

    A: Not really – I think this was an added bonus and seeing shots of the audience members shuffling about made it feel like I was almost there. But I would have happily watch this as a recording at home/cinema too.

    Q: If it had just been a screening of a filmed/recorded stage production, would you have still gone?

    A: Yes. As you say, it was so seamlessly filmed without hardly any problems that it could have been a recording.

    Q: Were there any advantages in seeing it via camera/projection rather than being in the theatre audience? (e.g. sound quality, ability to see close-ups of actors)

    A: I loved seeing the close ups of the actors and the different angles of the action that you would never get sitting in one fixed seat. The best seat on the house for only £10! Also there was a more relaxed atmosphere in the cinema as opposed to the theatre – snacks and drinks can be munched on, comments made to a friend, all things taboo in the theatre space. I can see this being an attractive way for groups of restless young people to watch theatre.

    Q: Were there any disadvantages? (e.g. restricted choice over where to look, loss of feeling of “connection” with the actors?)

    A: Not really …

    Q: Did you find yourself longing for the use of filmic techniques, such as rapid jump-cuts between scenes, and external landscape shots?

    A: No – the filming was great.

    Overall impression?

    Really positive. I think this medium has a lot of potential in many ways especially in an education setting. The use of interviews and rehearsal footage before and during the interval was fantastic and a real bonus to understanding more about the play.

    This is especially of benefit if you are not located in the same city as the theatre – looking forward to the live events from New York to come next month!



    Nesta published a research briefing yesterday from the work that David Throsby and Hasan Bakhshi have been doing with the National Theatre on their NT Live screenings of theatre to digital cinemas. You can download the paper at the following link.

    Profile photo of David Bolton
    David Bolton

    Thanks Sinead, thanks Hannah.

    Interesting article on this theme: “I guess we’re going to have to deal with this filmed theatre thing”

    Profile photo of David Bolton
    David Bolton

    In a highly relevant experiment, last night the BBC screened a live episode of Eastenders. How many people here saw it? And what did you think of it, in comparison to the normal recorded episodes?

    There is a BBC news item here – as well as the main Eastenders “25th Anniversary” episode website and an (edited) live comment feed page.

    This may be soap – but if it is live, does that also make it theatre?

    Actually, I didn’t see it – for three reasons: (1) I hate watching soaps, (2) I don’t have a TV, and (3) I was out watching live performances at the wonderful Studio Salford

    Profile photo of Jane Hogg
    Jane Hogg

    I made a real point of watching and NOT a fan – interesting, exciting and made even better by some of the mistakes.

    Found this thread intersting as hope to live stream christmas shows into hospitals Dec 2010…

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