Beyond the Curtain: How Digital Media is Reshaping Theatre
IssueDigital technologies and the cultural sector
This study attempts to address three key research questions: 1) “How is digital media currently used in theatres both in Ontario and beyond and what is the potential for expanding its use?”; 2) “How can the content developed for the stage be adapted and repurposed for use on digital media platforms?”; and 3) “How can theatres use digital media to reach a wider and more demographically diverse audience?”
The report is based on a literature review and consultation with people knowledgeable about digital media and theatre (including 31 interviews and a survey with 426 respondents).
The study traces how theatre technology and audience engagement are changing simultaneously. The report indicates that “digital media and technological innovations present both opportunities and challenges to our performance communities”.
Among the opportunities, the report cites “the potential to reach new audiences on a variety of platforms, engaging a younger generation with the live performance experience”. Social media provides theatres and performers with a new way of interacting with their audiences. On-stage technologies “such as holograms, projection systems, virtual scenery and 3D visual effects have, for companies able to afford them, enabled a new audience experience”. There are also opportunities to repurpose performing arts content for new platforms, such as cinemas, TV, and many different kinds of internet-enabled devices. Interestingly, a majority of the theatre practitioners surveyed indicated that they believe that “people would be willing to pay to download or view a digital version of a live performance”.
An important challenge is money, which the report cites as a key barrier to innovation. There is no specific funding for experimentation with digital media, and live theatres are very dependent on ticket sales for their revenues. Recording technology and staff are expensive. There is also no model of payments to theatre artists for the online distribution of their work.
The study expresses a need to ensure that more Canadian performing arts content is available in Canadian classrooms.
The report concludes with six recommendations:
- Theatre producers and unions are urged to “ensure that barriers to rapid adoption of content re-purposing and digital media applications are removed”.
- The report indicates that there is a need for a forum to exchange ideas, skills and resources regarding digital media technology.
- “Tax credits and production funding should be made available to content creators who repurpose theatrical content for the big and small screen even if a broadcaster is not involved.”
- All parties should jointly “develop integrated and collaborative workshops and master classes in the area of digital media technology”.
- “Innovation funding should be made available to theatre companies” to explore and experiment with digital technologies.
- “A collaborative pilot project should be undertaken for the capture and distribution of live performance for domestic, educational and international distribution.”