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Leading theatres launch downloadable shows

First Published 23 October 2009, Last Updated 26 October 2009

The Almeida theatre, Royal Court, Young Vic, Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and English Touring Theatre (ETT) are to make productions available online in collaboration with new company Digital Theatre.

The exciting online venture launched today offering downloadable versions of ETT’s Far From The Madding Crowd and the Young Vic’s The Container. The Young Vic’s Kafka’s Monkey will be available soon.

The £1 million project, which has the full support of Equity, BECTU and the Musician’s Union, is the brainchild of director Robert Delamere and producer Tom Shaw, who work closely with the creative team of each production to ensure the film is as close to the spirit of the live production as it can be.

“The key,” said Delamere, speaking to Official London Theatre, “is to get the essence of what the performance is and work alongside the creative teams in order to capture that in an accurate experience. There’s a lot of collaboration, a lot of everyone being on the same page and then working it towards something that everyone is proud of.”

Michael Attenborough, Artistic Director of the Almeida theatre, shares this thinking: “The pleasure of working with Digital Theatre is that they are truly collaborative, it’s a proper artistic partnership from start to finish. In the past this kind of work has been vulnerable to artistic and financial abuse, but Digital are thankfully so open about their process that the results have already progressed and advanced. We are really looking forward to developing our partnership and exploring what promises to be a really exciting future.”

Rather than using a static camera in the auditorium as previous archive filming has, the Digital Theatre process custom fits its filming techniques for each specific production, using different numbers of cameras in carefully chosen locations to film over a number of performances, collecting a wealth of footage which, working with the production’s creative team, is edited together to create the filmed version of the show that can be seen by theatre fans worldwide.

The launch of Digital Theatre comes at a time when many of London’s theatre companies are experimenting with filmed versions of their productions; the National Theatre through its NT Live screenings and Shakespeare’s Globe through Opus Arte. With each new project, the question of how it compares to the truly live sensation of being part of a theatre audience is raised.

“We’ve always said it doesn’t compete,” says Delamere of the digital alternative to a live performance. “Nothing will be available [online] until after a production has completed its live life. It’s meant to be complementary. There’s just something fantastic about being able to log on somewhere; one day you wake up and go ‘Let’s see what I missed.’”

The diversity and challenge of the opening shows – The Container crammed performers and audience into a haulage container outside the Young Vic – reflects the enterprise, passion and ambition of Digital Theatre, which aims to film productions of a wide and ranging variety. “It’s a case of not filming everything that’s out there,” confirms Shaw, “it’s about picking and choosing effectively the right show for this platform. There’s so many great shows out there, we could be filming every night, but at the moment it’s about looking ahead, seeing what’s coming up, seeing what the ingredients of that production are and seeing if it will fit this technique.”

David Lan, the Artistic Director of the Young Vic, adds: “To create a filmed version of a show as eccentric and challenging as The Container, set in a shipping container, was a challenge. We thought if Digital Theatre can make this work, they can do anything. And they have.”

While the Young Vic and ETT have already worked with Digital Theatre on at least one of their productions, the Almeida theatre, Royal Court and RSC aim to make productions available to download and watch on theatre fans’ computers in 2010.

Delamere concluded: “The theatre industry and our partners have been really fantastic. It’s quite a jump to suddenly go from the live experience in a physical space to a virtual space.”

For more information or to download productions, visit www.digitaltheatre.com

MA

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