Theatre Coming to a Movie Theater Near You (?)

by Katie Barry

in Events,Tech & the Arts

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Theatre in the multiplex

After my first article about theatre streaming on your computer screen, it was probably inevitable that I’d write about theatre streaming on a much, much larger screen. Live theatre is being beamed into movie screens around the world. This isn’t an entirely new idea – Met Opera in HD has been streaming live performances since 2006, and organizations from NPR , to Christian rock bands have experimented with the genre.

Theatre came relatively late to the game, but it’s beginning to make up for lost time. In 2009, in 2009, Britain’s National Theatre broadcast Helen Mirren in Phedre , and the 20th anniversary production of Forever Plaid, starring an 88-year-old Carol Channing. The technology isn’t perfect yet – viewers complained of technical problems in the Forever Plaid production – but it’s a step in a good direction. The Phedre broadcast went so well that the National Theatre opened two more plays, The Art of Habit and The London Assurance , to movie audiences. They have or will appear in 19 countries and 25 U.S. states.

Many reviews have been positive, although there are certain issues that arise in mixing the genres. I once had a theatre professor who was adamant that theatre was much more difficult to create than film or TV because a film director can frame a shot so that the audience sees only what he wants them to see. A theatre director can never completely control where an audience member will look, he’d say, and that is why she has to work harder to make sure the entire set is perfect. Live theatre broadcasts mix these genres – the camera angles with the ‘perfectly’  staged production. I know one Met in HD audience member who complained about a scene in which a singer cries out mournfully for several minutes, all the while completely covered in blood. In the live version, there was lot of other action going on onstage which the audience could choose to look at, but in the movie version, the director zoomed in on the bloody singer and kept the camera focused on her. My audience member found it very disconcerting.

Still, there are obvious advantages to this model – unless the National Theatre decides to send several productions on a massive worldwide tour each year, this is probably the best way to present them to international audiences. The experience of watching something with other people on a big screen and sound system of a movie theatre is probably the closest second to attending the live event. The price – about $20 in the U.S. – is certainly much less than one would pay to see Helen Mirren live.

For those interested in checking out this genre, the National Theatre’s next movie screen production opens in the US in late June.

Your Two Cents: Can you think of any American productions that might be good candidates for the silver screen?


Katie Barry has been a preschool teacher in Vietnam, a theatre tech in Vermont, and, most recently, a web associate at TCG. When not writing descriptions of herself in the third person, Katie enjoys traveling, theatre, all things international, long brunches, books, and playing with her two kittens. She lives in Brooklyn with Yuki and is learning to swing dance.

  • Raymond Kent

    As a person who designs both performing arts centers and cinemas I find it an interesting combination. What will be of more interest to me I think will be to see if any producers are willing to try to capture the action of live theater using 3-D cinema technology for a streaming show. I do believe the one element that does get missed is the actors in a live production reacting to a live audience which brings some magic to the art.

  • KatieBarry

    That would be interesting! Though I bet it would render scenes like the one with the bloody singer absolutely terrifying.