Streaming the theatre

Catríona McLaughlin and Aonghus Óg McNally on streaming Beckett’s ‘Happy Days’.
Photo by Kaykaybarrie on Creative Commons

Maintaining the integrity of the theatre experience while also making it visually stimulating is crucial when producing a play for live streaming platforms according to theatre directors.

Since the closure of all venues almost a year ago the Irish theatre community has been adapting how they present their work without a live audience.

However, there is a big difference between watching a performance as an audience member and watching it through a live stream.

As an audience member you take in the performance as a whole and you have autonomy to look where you want. This different in livestreams, the camera can force the viewer to focus on something that perhaps in a theatre they would not have been drawn to.

Therefore, it is essential creators of these streamed productions use the medium correctly to best provide the theatre experience to a remote audience.

This can be achieved through a conscious use of angles and shots according to Catríona McLaughlin, Director of the recent production of Samuel Beckett’s ‘Happy Days’ streamed from the Olympia Theatre. 

She describes the new experience of working with an editor who is live editing the show to ensure that the production gives the audience the most realistic experience of theatre through a lens.

“We had a long conversation around what the play was doing and what he needed to do in order to keep a television audience engaged,” says McLaughlin.

While over-editing can disrupt the live experience it is also essential that the production remains visually stimulating for the audience, notes ‘Happy Days’ Associate Director, Aonghus Óg McAnally.

The static nature of ‘Happy Days’ leant itself to streaming according to Óg McAnally but they also had to find a balance that made the play visually stimulating for viewers. 

There are even benefits of streaming beyond this pandemic according to McLaughlin and Óg McAnally. 

McLaughlin feels that in the future this medium could be used for high demand productions so that even if people can’t get a ticket in person they can watch the live stream with the audience.

Óg McAnally believes that positives of streaming are too beneficial for theatre to ignore. It can overcome geographical difficulties, accessibility limitations, and the rigidity of a formal theatre environment making it available to a wider and more diverse audience.

“There’s a whole new section of audience out there that can access the work in a freer way,” says Óg McAnally.

He also believes that streaming can introduce a better  “diversity of voices” into theatre as it improves access for smaller productions. 

“In the smartphone in your pocket, what essentially you have is a global platform to broadcast live via satellite around the world” he explains.

McLaughlin feels that we may see more productions like ‘Happy Days’ if streaming continues to be used.

“The plays where you really go inside yourself, rather than a play that’s action filled or dynamic filled, I think those kinds of plays really lend themselves to this medium” says McLaughlin.

Streaming however is no replacement for live performances as both McLaughlin and Óg McAnally agree. 

“There’s an alchemy in having people share a common space” says Óg McAnally. “[The shared experience] is a common culture trait across civilisations across the world.”

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