Digital Theatre / Digital Theatre Plus: Recreating Live Theatrical Productions

Amanda Smith




The variety and complexity of digital resources available for the humanities through the Internet are numerous in the twenty-first century. Theatre is one discipline that remains strongly unaccustomed to new age, streaming, digital media. However, one company’s partnership with today’s leading theatre companies has sought to bring new life to the flat view of recorded performance, Digital Theatre.
Digital Theatre is a recording partnership between theatre and theatre companies in the UK, allowing the use of camera recording to capture the subtleties of live performance and bring it into any internet users home via the home computer (Digital Theatre, n.p.) Partnering theatre’s and theatre companies are: Bush Theatre, ETT, Royal Court, Royal Exchange Theatre, RSC, Almeida Theatre, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Gate Theatre, and Young Vic. For a small fee, generally £8.99, a user can select and download a multitude of recorded stage shows. Digital Theatre assures their use of high-definition and numerous camera angles allow viewers to be emotionally close to the performance. They also state they provide a wide array of professional performances, everyone can find something that appeals to their liking, releasing new performances on a regular basis to keep up with what the best theatres are producing. Viewers, can subscribe to Digital Theatre’s mailing list to receive updates directly, or, anyone can browse Digital Theatre’s website for the latest news and upcoming performances.
Digital Theatre is a large resource by itself, but they are expanding their production and changing their targeted audience from the avid theatre enthusiast, to students, teachers, and schools including secondary educational institutions. Digital Theatre now produces Digital Theatre Plus. Digital Theatre and Digital Theatre Plus are made up of theatre makers that form a team, committed to drawing in a viewer and enhancing the intimacy of the live performance on a recorded media. Digital Theater Plus believes in creating a more “real” experience to get the attention of younger viewers (Digital Theater Plus, n.p.). Digital Theatre Plus enhances its productions with interviews and related documentaries about the performance. It takes the theatre to parts of the world and people that would otherwise not be able to have the experience of the theatre. Schools impacted include those in Hong Kong, Australia, and Brazil among others. Digital Theater Plus states, “The best seat in the house is the one you’re sitting in.”
The Digital Theatre Plus teams consists of two founders, Robert Dealmere and Tom Shaw; CFO, Robert Stanner; creative producer, Fiona Lindsay; head of sales and marketing; Daniel Alicandro; operations manager, Suzie Rendle; administrative co-ordinator, Ashley Clark; web development manager, Paul Schneider; sales administration assistant, Rhea Mehmet; and researcher, Kate Jagger. In much the same way as Digital Theatre, live shows have been recorded and are available via the website, however, with Digital Theatre Plus, performances are viewed from the website itself without being downloaded.
A Comparable resource, however from the music discipline, is the recorded music resource Classical Music (Classical Music Library, n.p.). Another is Naxos Music Library streaming music database (Naxos, n.p.). These databases do not offer downloadable options. Much in the same way as Digital Theatre Plus they stream their audio. Another unique feature to Digital Theatre Plus is online learning resource pages. Learning resources are designed for the student, kindergarten through undergraduate level, and the teacher. A resource accompanies each production and includes the following: introduction to the story, characters, relationship maps, plot summary, language, context, and the playwright. Audio and video links enhance online texts, aiding solo study. PDF downloads are available for select important pages.
Digital Theatre is an active resource, whereas, Digital Theatre Plus is up-and-coming, currently in trial mode for certain areas. The University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Golda Meir Library currently has a trial subscription through 28 October 2011. Already, Digital Theatre Plus is gaining fans. Dave Brennand of Blackpool City Learning Centre, CPD-CLC Adviser writes,
I have always believed in real live experiences for students. The thing they remember the most from their school of college days tend to be those experiences outside the classroom; Experiences that live with them for a lifetime and substantially contribute to their learning. Live performances therefore would always be my first choice, but in a climate of austerity, schools music look to different ways to experience live performances. The new and emerging Digital Theatre Plus captured my interest at the recent Education Show 2011 and will enable schools to keep costs down by sharing live performance through a digital medium and also hopefully spark an interest and a passion for theatre in students. In Blackpool we will take this to all our schools and colleges and welcome the opportunity link with such an innovative product (http://www.digitaltheatreplus.com/about_us).

Review’s for Digital Theatre are just as positive.
I welcome the arrival of Digital Theatre, which is offering downloads of theatre productions that can be watched on your computer, or with the help of a few gizmos, on your widescreen television. Looking at the trailers on the new site, it appears that the company…has found a way of cracking the perilous transfer of stage show to screen (//http://www.digitaltheatre.com/news/49//).
Charles Spencer – The Daily Telegraph

The diversity and challenge of the opening shows…reflects the enterprise, passion and ambition of Digital Theatre, which aims to film productions of a wide and ranging variety (http://www.digitaltheatreplus.com/about_us).
Matthew Amer – Society of London Theatres

In contrast, there is a negative view surrounding the digital age and what powers Digital Theatre and Digital Theatre Plus. In an article put out in TDR, a MIT Press Journal, the Critical Art Ensemble (CAE) wrote, “the formation of digital theatre (in the broadest sense of this term) is a struggle over the microsociology of the performative matrix of everyday life (Critical Art Ensemble, n.p.).” The article explains that capitalism is dominant in a “digital political-economy.” Pan capitalism has gone astray in a negative way. The CAE states, “Digital culture is on this same trajectory, with its primary manifestation being an invasive mass media that functions as a reproduction and distribution network for the ideology of capital (Critical Art Ensemble, n.p.).” The CAE, whose article was written before the formation of Digital Theatre, does not discuss if technology like Digital Theatre or Digital Theatre Plus are beneficial tools, however, it sees new technology and digitalization of the arts as a money tool.
Theatre and the Arts are old disciplines that are just beginning to take on a new digital enterprise. Digital Theatre is leading the way in bringing professional performances to the at-home viewer. Digital Theatre is expanding its audience by incorporating teaching tools to aid its productions, and offer streaming video to students in grade schools through undergraduate level. As of now, Digital Theatre is based out of the UK, and is partnered with British theatre and theatre companies. Other databases Naxos, and Classical Music Library, both streaming music databases are similar in character to Digital Theater. Most reviews hail the production of such musical shows, and only a select few see money as a key aspect to bringing the stage to home viewers.


References


Classical Music Library. Alexander Street Press. 2011. Web. 24 October 2011. http://clmu.alexanderstreet.com
Critical Art Ensemble. “Recombinant Theatre and Digital Resistance.” TDR 44, no. 4 (1988): 151-166. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1146869 (accessed October 22, 2011).
Digital Theatre. 2011. Web. 22 October, 2011. http://www.digitaltheatre.com/
Digital Theatre Plus. Digital Theatre. 2011. Web. 22 October, 2011. http://www.digitaltheatreplus.com/
Naxos Music Library. 2011. Web. 24 October 2011. http://uwm.naxosmusiclibrary.com