With C Venues announcing an online platform, on-demand streaming for theatre is on the rise, but is this a good thing?
The early 2020s' Covid-scape has seen our increasing reliance on cyberspace. From university to the office, humanity has migrated to the online ether. And now, this digital revolution can be seen trickling into theatre. The National Theatre, for example, has its "National Theatre at Home" service, allowing theatrical, on-demand streaming. Digital Theatre is another programme boasting an impressive collection of theatrical recordings. More recently, The Edinburgh Fringe company C Venues have established their platform, "C Arts", which allows productions to be streamed internationally. Its mission is to raise the global profile of independent artists worldwide, granting independent performers opportunities to take to the digital stage, showcasing their talents globally. This creative outlet is a lifeline for performers worldwide who have been left unemployed during the theatre industry's decline in the pandemic's wake.
"Its mission is to raise the global profile of independent artists worldwide, granting independent performers opportunities to take to the digital stage..."
A digital, globalised medium is not only advantageous to performers. With increasingly costly ticket fees, theatre is undeniably an expensive art form and does not cater to typical working-class audiences. The C Arts initiative rectifies this through "pay what you can" ticketing options, which significantly reduce prices, widening theatrical access. Despite this, the C Arts scheme requires artists to pay participation fees without wage compensation, raising questions over equity. Nevertheless, the opportunity to share work on a global scale can prove invaluable in its associated benefits, whether financial, social, or employability related.
"Theatre is undeniably an expensive art form and does not cater to typical working-class audiences."
It is vital to ask whether theatre can be theatre if digitally streamed in a manner similar to Netflix? Theatre's relationship with its audience thrives upon liveness and the sense of spectacle. When you view a play live, no one can ever watch an exact replica of it. Performance's nuance and nature of change moulds theatre into a one-off embargo. Digital, on-demand theatre, to an extent, retains its liveness through the excitement of performance itself, no matter how often you binge-watch. Theatre, be it live or on-demand, is escapist art. Respite from everyday mundanity. New forms of artistic expression can be accordingly uncovered by crafting contemporary opportunities for artists to showcase their talents to serotonin seeking spectators.
With Covid-induced digitisation, theatre's globalised ascension makes perfect sense. Perhaps when the theatre industry stabilises, there will be reduced demand for theatrical streaming. Until then, platforms like C Arts allow creative voices to be heard and upheld when they are more often than not told to keep quiet (I'm looking at you, Fatima in cyber).
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