Digital transformation toolkit for theatres

A Zoom production of The Tempest

Creation Theatre

A new toolkit for theatre companies gives them practical guidance on how to transition from physical to digital performances.

The toolkit is a result of research led by Professor Pascale Aebischer and Dr Rachael Nicholas from the University of Exeter. The project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of UKRI’s COVID-19 funding.

The Digital Theatre Transformation project analysed the lessons learned from the experiences of Creation Theatre in Oxford, which performed a sell-out production of The Tempest on Zoom during lockdown. The result was an early stage report and a toolkit for theatre companies.

Reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness

The initial report found that people were still willing to pay for virtual performances and that three-quarters of the audience would still watch live Zoom theatre even when theatres are reopened.

Audience members said participating in Zoom performances made them feel part of a community and reduced feelings of isolation and loneliness.

Professor Aebischer said:

With winter approaching and the threat of further lockdowns, the ability to switch rapidly to digital performances that generate income will be critical to the survival of the industry.

Larger theatres and companies have been producing high-quality digital versions of performances since at least 2009, when NT Live was launched, and the Royal Shakespeare Company has been producing made-for-digital work since 2010.

This trend for digital content was already happening, but lockdown meant theatre companies of all sizes had to try to adapt rapidly.

Our toolkit has three sections. The first is dos and don’ts from the company members at Creation Theatre, from the chief executive to stage managers and performers.

The second section covers guidelines for companies on how to frame employment for actors working at home, and the impact that performing at home has for performers.

The third section is a technical checklist, which is a practical guide on how to set up Zoom, how to rehearse remotely, make the performance accessible and how to perform front-of-house duties online.

The Digital Theatre Transformation project will publish a second report later this year with in-depth findings on audiences’ willingness to pay for live, digital theatre.

She continued:

Although efforts to provide free art content during lockdown were appreciated, we need to ensure this doesn’t become a substitute for audiences paying for tickets.

This creates jobs, new productions and ensures freelancers, who make up around half of all staff in the industry, can continue working in the industry.

Theatre is diversifying, we were heading in this direction before the pandemic. I believe, depending on how many theatres survive, we’ll have traditional theatre performances alongside digital, with patrons for both.

See the Digital Theatre Transformation’s report and toolkit (PDF).

Last updated: 30 October 2020

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