A manual for bringing theatre to the screen
Miracle Theatre shares practical advice for making and distributing digital versions of theatre productions.
This manual is the result of a period of experimentation and exploration of the interface between live and digital carried out by Miracle Theatre in partnership with Dogbite Film Crew, Golant Media Ventures, Cinegi and Falmouth University.
We set out to look at affordable and innovative ways of making digital versions of our theatre productions and distributing them, both live and recorded, to a network of dispersed, often rural, venues via presented screenings and digital platforms.
The equipment would need to be affordable, the method of delivery user-friendly and the product retain the intimacy, vitality and spontaneity that is typical of small-scale live performance. Most importantly we wanted to find out if audiences have an appetite for this kind of product and how the different forms (whether live, live-streamed, recorded 'as live' or made for screen) affected the audience's experience.
Finally we were interested to explore the potential for building a sustainable business model: this would include research into appropriate pricing structures, marketing and rights agreements.
Why do you want to produce a digital version of a live performance?
If produced soon enough in the production process, digital material can be used as an effective marketing tool in the form of trailers or teasers on websites and social media.
Even the most rudimentary, single static camera coverage creates an archive.
A live stream is a special event, extending the reach of a production, while retaining a sense of occasion, live performance and shared experience. 'As Live' and 'Made for Screen' recordings extend the life and reach of a production, whether screened in venues or made available to an online - potentially vast - audience.
By extending the life and reach of the work, digital has the potential to open up new income streams without incurring significant additional production costs.
The transition to digital may provide its own creative stimuli.
A contradiction in terms?
To most theatre-goers, the idea of 'Theatre for Screen' seems to be a contradiction in terms: theatre is all about the immediate relationship of performer and audience, the haptic experience of being in the same room and breathing the same air, the thrill of potential pitfalls, unrehearsed deviation and improvisation. However, as models such as National Theatre Live (NT Live) have demonstrated, it is possible to capture convincing likeness of 'live' and any feeling of dislocation is compensated by enjoying a view from the best seat in the house - in fact, one could say closer than that: the camera's perspective places the viewer between the audience and the performers, as an on-stage spectator. And, of course, for many people a digital screening in their local venue will overcome geographical and economic barriers that might prevent their ever experiencing these productions.
That 'Theatre for Screen' offers a satisfactory experience is shown by audience figures: the market for large-scale event cinema is increasing year on year, thanks in part to the success of initiatives like NT Live. By October 2013, the total income was £15 million - already double the 2012 total. If this represents 1% of cinematic screenings in the UK, it translates into 5% of total box office. By 2017, global income for event cinema is predicted to reach $1 billion (£644 million).
The creative possibilities of digital are infinite, whether it be filming a stage production as a largely peripheral exercise, an after-thought almost, to get added value from a successful show, or as an integral part of the production plan. Approached in this latter way, digital theatre may come to be valued as a new art form in its own right.
Download the manual for case studies, tips and a full kit list:
A manual for bringing theatre to the screen (PDF)
Image courtesy of Miracle Theatre © Kirstin Prisk