Live from Backstage

Theatre Royal Stratford East

Don’t Worry; Be Live.

The arts could use an anthem these days, and they might as well adapt Bobby McFerrin’s upbeat everything-will-be-all-right song. As more and more audiences keep their heads down with fingers ready to dial, click, expand, and scroll, arts professionals worry they are losing their audiences to wired connections.

The recent conference produced by the TCG, America’s national organization for theatre, hosted panels devoted to new models of theatre-making. The assumption was that the old ways of attracting and sustaining audiences are not sustainable. On the one hand this is about what kinds of works are produced; on the other hand, it’s about how to engage new audiences to have a stake in the development of artists, their work, and a community’s artistic identity.

At KadmusArts, we watch and capture the development of live event festivals across the world. There is no doubt that even as more of the planet is wired, live events continue to grow and expand their audiences. In fact, our database of festivals has expanded every single week since we were founded to help producers and promoters, audiences and fans, artists and bands travel, discover and create.

Last week in our daily Global Arts News feed, we posted a story that should lead arts professionals away from their struts and frets toward a brave new world approach to audience development and engagement. The Theatre Royal Stratford East has created a new and brilliant initiative: live streaming from the rehearsal room.

This simple idea is a perfect way to bring audiences backstage to better understand and yes, connect with the development and experience of art.

For Theatre Royal’s artistic director Kerry Michael, this approach creates a “third space” in addition to the main stage and the theatre bar. Of course, providing a platform to go inside the work helps generate interest and sell tickets. But for Michael, there’s more to it: “…it is also about finding a virtual way you can engage with our organisation. People talk about how exciting it is to hang out in our bar, or how good our access programmes are, or how political we are in our debates and that is now represented in a virtual way.” In a way, Theatre Royal is honoring one of its early leaders, Joan Littlewood, who was one of the great theatrical innovators and talents of the last century. She knew how to involve everyone in the process.

Rather than trying to change the program for the social net gen’s benefit, this theatre is leading with what it does best and then bringing the audience along for the ride. The way to bridge the divide between the arts and audiences is to work on better informing audiences about the process and the choices in creating work. The more the audiences know, the more they will enjoy. A backstage pass is no longer a privilege; it’s a open party.

Just like singing along to that old tune: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.

- Bill Reichblum

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