Watch TV, Go Live

Met Simulcast

Photo by Sybilla Poortman — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Good news: Live theatre discovers digital distribution.

As featured in last week’s KadmusArts News feed, a new initiative at On the Boards is helping “progressive contemporary performances” reach a wider audience. In a not-for-profit venture, selects performances to record in HD and distributes them via a pay-per-view network. The producing theatres and artists share in the proceeds.

Unfortunately, the knee-jerk response to the news was that this initiative will lead to a further decrease in audiences for the live event.

Can’t they hear the music?

The music industry has certainly learned that digital downloads increase the live concert business, both for the big rock ‘n roll arenas, as well as for the smaller venues and clubs. Bands can build audiences through digital platforms. The reason live shows do well is that they provide a better experience — a real show — than listening in the privacy of one’s home or earphoned head. Just ask Lady Gaga.

Classy music, though, is an example of misunderstanding the business. After all, this is an industry still reeling from vinyl. Until the classical musical profession figures out a way to enhance the concert going experience (creating an attractive context for the music and the ticket prices), the recorded product will continue to provide a better value experience. In other words, they need to convince us that there is a reason to hear it live.

The problem, then, is not with the format but with the event.

Not too long ago, I saw a production at one of the theatres that is part of the network. The piece was a series of monologues. One actor at a time came down stage center, delivered a monologue about overcoming an obstacle in the character’s life, and then returned to a folded chair upstage. The script was as predictable as the actor’s delivery. There was nothing in this event that demanded a live component — from the actors or the audience. We would all have saved time, money, and convenience if we had read the monologues at home — or fast forwarded through a recorded show on TV.

The artistic responsibility, then, is to create a work that demands to be seen live. The digital distribution can act as a kind of tease: you know you aren’t experiencing the full effect of the work because you aren’t there. Anything that works better as a televised event probably should stay as a televised event.

This performance initiative will not only create a valuable archive of accomplished performance work, but more importantly deepen the current connection to audiences — and reach new audiences.

Digital distribution might even help make better live performance artists.

- Bill Reichblum

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One Response to “Watch TV, Go Live”

  1. On the Boards » Blog Archive » KadmusArts chimes in about
    February 2nd, 2010 14:06

    [...] Read the full post. [...]

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