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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: August 23, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

    Coming to a screen near you – the theatre

    Laurence Mackin

    There is an intriguing piece by Andrew Dickson over on the Guardian website on the Traverse theatre’s plans to broadcast one of its theatre shows live to cinemas in the UK and Ireland tonight.

    Five scripts, by Marina Carr, David Eldridge, Linda McLean, Simon Stephens and Enda Walsh (my god the man is everywhere) were commissioned by the Traverse for the Edinburgh Fringe, and given a day of rehearsal before performance. Tonight, a one-off back-to-back performance of all five will take place and it will be beamed to four cinemas in Ireland: in Dundrum and Swords in Dublin; Dungarvan in Co Waterford; and Gorey, Co Wexford. These will in essence be rehearsed readings. The play’s cast and crew have also been recorded in rehearsal, with the production company behind this, Hibrow, planning to use this footage in a portal website to be launched later this year, at hibrow.tv – viewers will be able to log on to the website and get the theatrical equivalent of a DVD film with a whole bunch of special features and extras thrown in for good measure.

    This raises a number of intriguing questions. The headline of the piece has also got a little carried away with itself, asking: “Is this the future of theatre?” Broadcasting theatre is nothing new of course (and Dickson points this out). In many countries, plays are shot and shown on terrestrial television channels as part of normal running schedules, although admittedly this is becoming rarer.

    However, the question remains – should theatre be engaging in this sort of tactic? The simple answer is that in doing so, the theatre is immediately throwing itself open to a wider audience and the hope would be that a person who would not ordinarily go to see a play would be intrigued enough to take an interest, and perhaps go and see the real thing in the flesh.

    However, I’m not convinced this argument holds water. The nature of theatrical acting is vastly different from film acting. What seems studied and controlled on stage could well come across as overreaching when broadcast. If I was in the director’s chair, I would be concerned that broadcasting a play like this risks turning as many people away from it as it could potentially bring in.

    The idea of seeing behind the scenes, though, is fascinating and the portal website sounds like a brilliant resource for fans and trainee actors. Unlike film, where audiences, through exactly the sort of DVD extras mentioned above, are constantly treated to glimpses beyond the camera and actor interviews, what goes on in the wings is still very much shrouded in secrecy. I love the mystery of this, and personally I don’t want to see how the magic is done on a really good production. But I would imagine that I am very much in the minority here.

    As for tonight’s broadcast, it would be impossible to create the same sort of atmosphere and drama in a cinema as in the theatre. Yes, there will be the added frisson from the shared experience, but the thrill of the theatre is the fact that you are in the same room as the events been depicted – and if something goes badly awry or completely clicks in that room, you will be a first witness, right in the thick of it. Good theatre succeeds in bringing you right to the heart of the drama for these reasons, something which film, with its larger budgets and bigger bag of high-tech bells and whistles, has to struggle harder to achieve.

    This notion also raises the prospect of theatrical trailers – imagine going to your local cinema and watching a slick trailer for a new film you haven’t heard of, only to discover what you are seeing is a trailer for a theatrical production? That is a development I would like to see trialled; perhaps it has already been done, and if so please drop us a line and let me know below.

    Kudos to the Traverse for tackling a technically daunting challenge and for trying to expand its audience. I’m not convinced it is the future of theatre, but it is an intriguing development. For now, though, I’ll keep taking my seat in the stalls. I think I’m with Sam Mendes on this one. When asked if he would work in (gimcrack) 3D in film, he replied: “I already have. It’s called theatre.”

    Top class.

    Five scripts, by Marina Carr, David Eldridge, Linda McLean, Simon Stephens and Enda Walsh (my god the man is everywhere) were commissioned by the Traverse for the Edinburgh Fringe, and given a day of rehearsal before performance. Tonight, a one-off back-to-back performance of all five will take place and it will be beamed to four cinemas in Ireland: in Dundrum and Swords in Dublin; Dungarvan in Co Waterford; and Gorey, Co Wexford. These will in essence be rehearsed readings. The play’s cast and crew have also been recorded in rehearsal, with the production company behind this, Hibrow, planning to use this footage in a portal website to be launched later this year, at hibrow.tv – viewers will be able to log on to the website and get the theatrical equivalent of a DVD film with a whole bunch of special features and extras thrown in for good measure.

    This raises a number of intriguing questions. The headline of the piece has also got a little carried away with itself, asking: “Is this the future of theatre?” Broadcasting theatre is nothing new of course (and Graham-Dixon points this out). In many countries, plays are shot and shown on terrestrial television channels as part of normal running schedules, although admittedly this is becoming rarer.

    However, the question remains – should theatre be engaging in this sort of tactic? The simple answer is that in doing so, the theatre is immediately throwing itself open to a wider audience and the hope would be that a person who would not ordinarily go to see a play would be intrigued enough to take an interest, and perhaps go and see the real thing in the flesh.

    However, I’m not convinced this argument holds water. The nature of theatrical acting is vastly different from film acting. What seems studied and controlled on stage could well come across as overreaching when broadcast. If I was in the director’s chair, I would be concerned that broadcasting a play like this risks turning as many people away from it as it could potentially bring in.

    The idea of seeing behind the scenes, though, is fascinating and the portal website sounds like a brilliant resource for fans and trainee actors. Unlike film, where audiences, through exactly the sort of DVD extras mentioned above, are constantly treated to glimpses beyond the camera and actor interviews, what goes on in the wings is still very much shrouded in secrecy. I love the mystery of this, and personally I don’t want to see how the magic is done on a really good production. But I would imagine that I am very much in the minority here.

    As for tonight’s broadcast, it would be impossible to create the same sort of atmosphere and drama in a cinema as in the theatre. Yes, there will be the added frisson from the shared experience, but the thrill of the theatre is the fact that you are in the same room as the events been depicted – and if something goes badly awry or completely clicks in that room, you will be a first witness, right in the thick of it. Good theatre succeeds in bringing you right to the heart of the drama for these reasons, something which film, with its larger budgets and bigger bag of high-tech bells and whistles, has to struggle harder to achieve.

    This notion also raises the prospect of theatrical trailers – imagine going to your local cinema and watching a slick trailer for a new film you haven’t heard of, only to discover what you are seeing is a trailer for a theatrical production? That is a development I would like to see trialled; perhaps it has already been done, and if so please drop us a line and let me know below.

    Kudos to the Traverse for tackling a technically daunting challenge and for trying to expand its audience. I’m not convinced it is the future of theatre, but it is an intriguing development. For now, though, I’ll keep taking my seat in the stalls. I think I’m with Sam Mendes on this one. When asked if he would work in (gimcrack) 3D in film, he replied: “I already have. It’s called theatre.”

    Top class.

    • Sarah says:

      Great piece Laurence! Hibrow did indeed produce a wee trailer for Traverse Live, which has been showing in the Picturehouse network. Voila http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyzpIJ3V4BI

    • Liz McCullough says:

      I’m curious, BUT the difference between theatre and screen is one of engagement on behalf of the audient. Watching it on tv is a passive activity that allows the viewer to do the crossword at the same time. In a dark theatre, we are involved; the show is happening TO us FOR us and we can influence what happens on stage by our reactions. But let me try it before I knock it!

    • Laurence Mackin says:

      Sarah – In an odd way, watching trailers for things that are not film is odd, but I like the idea of it. Like this trailer Tindersticks came up with for Falling Down a Mountain. Hellacool.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1jylAx5nhY

      Liz – Yep, I reckon watching it in a cinema might go some way towards creating that audience experience, but I’d still wonder if it is worth the trip. What could be very cool is if the theatre was double header with a film, particularly for some shorter solo pieces. The Traverse pieces above are all relatively short. It would be great to go to the cinema, watch a short play and then see the film that was your main reason for coming.

      And sincere apologies to Andrew Dickson for getting his byline wrong in the post above. For shame, for shame. And thanks to Des Fitzgerald for pointing that bad boy out.


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