Monthly Archives: February 2014

The money question

Very interesting article below about the challenges of financing a theatre broadcasting project (courtesy of John Wyver and his blog at Illuminations Media).

Call me naive, but I would have assumed that commercial theatre (i.e. Broadway and the West End) would be better equipped to capitalize on new financial ventures such as live broadcasting. But this piece from the New York Times — ‘Off Off Off Broadway (at Your Multiplex)’ — suggests that this isn’t the case. On the contrary, established arts institutions like the Met Opera and the National Theatre have both the cultural heft and long-term structure to be able to develop an in-house broadcasting programme and to keep it supplied with a steady stream of productions:

    ‘The scattershot attempts to follow National Theater Live and the Met suggest that there is still plenty of head scratching about the financial and philosophical issues behind the idea of canning Broadway for mass consumption.
    Julie Borchard-Young, who along with her husband, Robert Borchard-Young, runs BY Experience, said the sheer institutional might of companies like the Met and the National made the process far easier to navigate than it would be for an individual Broadway producer. Ms. Borchard-Young, who knew the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, from his days at Sony Classical, was the one who initiated conversations about bringing opera to the movie-theater masses.
    “Broadway is not a single unified institution that can do all the legwork to prepare the marketplace,” she said. “Also, the serial nature is important. When you have a series of productions, everything from marketing to other costs are easier to handle.”’

The other point the article makes are the manifold challenges of negotiating artists’ contracts and associated financial rights — something I’ve heard reiterated in smaller-scale digital projects as well.

Unsurprisingly the question of money is a very, very important one, and one that perhaps we hear far too little of. How much does it cost to produce a live broadcast, and to what extent are those costs recouped through cinematic and DVD/download distribution?

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Watching along: #MuchAdoOnScreen

Last night I spent a good part of my Valentine’s Day evening watching Digital Theatre‘s filmed version of Josie Rourke’s 2011 Much Ado about Nothing, better known as the David Tennant and Catherine Tate Much Ado. The film has been available to me for several months now through my university’s Digital Theatre Plus subscription, which means that all students and staff have access to a large selection of the DT catalogue — kind of like a theatre version of Netflix.

But I was prompted to watch last night because of a ‘watchalong’ organized by DT for viewers around the world. At 7pm GMT, we were invited to press play on the Much Ado recording and to watch the production in sync with one another, tweeting our thoughts as we went. What really interests me about this, and the growing phenomenon of watchalongs, is the sense of ‘eventness’ and shared experience that they offer to viewers. Most of us are sitting at home on our own in front of a computer, but we are doing so with a wider community of viewers spread around the country and to some extent world.

Looking through the tweets from the evening, I spotted Twitter profiles from various parts of the UK, France, Germany, the United States, the Philipines, Australia, and I’m sure several other places that I haven’t yet caught. More than a few profiles noted a love of Doctor Who and David Tennant himself, suggesting that although this is a geographically disparate community, it is also one with a distinct and unifying set of interests.

I also noticed a few moments in the evening in which new people joined in and asked where we were in the production, so that they could log in and fast-forward to the appropriate section — I love the fact that people specifically wanted to watch together, that this experience of ‘theatre going’ was of course about seeing the production, but also very much about doing so with others and experiencing a sense of liveness and synchronicity. In a weird way I’ve had that sense when I’ve unexpectedly caught a favorite movie on TV, and have decided to drop everything else to sit down and watch it then, even in some cases when I also own the movie on DVD. There’s just something more compelling about watching it in that moment, when I know others are doing so at the same time. Is that completely strange, or have others ever had that feeling too?

Below are some of the tweets from the evening, chosen by me rather quickly for a variety of reasons — to show the kinds of things people like to share, to show the technical issues they may or may not experience during a watchalong, to show where in the world they are watching from, to show the details in the production they’re noticing. If you were part of the watchalong too, I would really love to hear from you in the comments below.

Why did you decide to join in? Did you tweet as well as watch? Why or why not? Would you participate in a watchalong again? What do you like most about them?

Any and all thoughts very welcome!

(PS–At the moment I’m still trying to figure out how to properly embed the Storify feed! I think I need a plug-in… For now the link below will take you to it.)