Producing digital theatre during Covid-19
I am sure many producers have experienced the quicksand of Covid- times when trying to reschedule projects: in March we rescheduled until August. In August we rescheduled until November. In November we rescheduled until 2021.
With Everything Is Absolutely Fine, Hannah Elsy Productions’ latest show, a new musical co- produced and created by House of Blakewell, we took the decision for the show to be a fully digital experience in early 2021, rather than wait for a time when we could eventually perform to full capacity. This being a tightly budgeted production, we did not have the luxury to consider playing to half or quarter full capacity houses with social distancing restrictions.
We’ve taken the bold step to perform the show in a live and digital hybrid. We will (restrictions permitting) have a live audience at the North Wall in Oxford on the 22nd January 2021 at 7.30pm, and through the same performance we will livestream the show via 7 other theatres around the UK into the devices of ticket holders.
The other venues where you can buy tickets to the livestream are: The Lowry (which the show has also been developed with), Cast Doncaster, EM Forster Theatre Tonbridge, The Core Theatre in Solihull, Trinity Arts Centre Gainsborough, and Theatr Clwyd. Many of these theatres were the tour venues of the planned 2020 live tour which was meant to be playing in April 2020 but was cancelled for obvious reasons.
We are excited about livestreaming, as the show can now reach a wider audience, including people who would not otherwise be able to watch the production, and supporters of the show in America. Digital, being direct to consumer, is already democratising theatre – no longer do you need to live near a theatre or be able to afford the travel to go to a theatre, to see a world class production. The National Theatre were frontrunners with their pre pandemic NT Live cinema broadcasts of productions from the NT and beyond (Hannah was working at The Old Vic when the Present Laughter with Andrew Scott was recorded), and now that live streaming technology is becoming cheaper, it is available to more Off West End shows. This is incredibly exciting – finally the Off West End sector is no longer be constrained by run length and venue capacity size, which have traditionally been major barriers to any Off West End show making money.
The theatre industry will adapt. Online shopping disrupted the high street, digital has disrupted the ‘real estate’ prestige element of going to see a theatre production. Performing live for the camera and to a live audience simultaneously for livestreaming will need to be taught in drama schools, directors will need to be skilled at stage and camera, producers will wise up on the legal implications of digital – in fact, many of our consultation clients have already been seeking help about digital productions – and no longer will only West End and ‘National’ companies have a national and international reach. Of course, watching a production on the screen is not the same as the collective experience of going to the theatre in person. It is an entirely new and different market.
Everything Is Absolutely Fine is performing at the North Wall in Oxford, UK, on the 22nd January 2021 at 7.30pm GMT. You can book tickets to watch the performance in person or via livestream here. The production has been generously supported by the brilliant Cameron Grant Memorial Trust who do wonderful work to open up the conversation around mental health for young people.