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Theater Streams Beckett’s ‘Endgame’ to Reach Isolated Audiences

Thomas Pfeiffer

(Bloomberg) --

London’s Old Vic theater is about to make an unusual offer to the audiences it’s turned away: watch the drama at home instead.

It’s allowing people who bought tickets for Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame”, featuring Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe, to see what they missed over a dedicated video platform. The show -- a bleak, one-act reflection on life and death with occasional sparks of humor -- closed two weeks early because of the coronavirus.

It may not replace the live experience, but a remote audience is better than none as long as venues are shut. As the offer is just for ticket holders who don’t demand a refund, it could ease the financial hit to the historic venue from Britain’s national lockdown.

The National Theatre nearby on London’s South Bank is also turning to streaming to stay connected with audiences. It’s releasing stage productions of shows including “One Man Two Guvnors” with James Corden and Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of “Treasure Island” free on YouTube in the coming weeks.

If these experiments are a success, it may help convince wary stage directors to embrace streaming as a way to reach wider audiences. The National already airs some of its productions live in cinemas for less than the theater ticket price.

The Old Vic is using the video production and distribution knowhow of Digital Theatre, a developer of online tools for drama teachers that’s been trying to build a consumer following for theater streaming.

Cultural Democracy

Most big stage productions are captured on video in some form for posterity, learning or research purposes, said Digital Theatre Chief Executive Officer Neelay Patel. He’s now trying to get other struggling theater companies on board.

“We’ll need to decide which recordings are good enough, as some of the material will not be top standard,” he said.

Advocates of theater streaming see it as an exercise in cultural democracy that can bring the stage to new audiences. But it’s a challenge to produce a stage show for a remote audience in a compelling way.

Part of the point of live theater is the invisible bond created by the proximity of actor and viewer, and the tension that builds when drama unfolds in a confined space. Efforts to bring theater to TV audiences have often failed over thorny questions of royalties for copyright owners, actors and technicians.

The National Theatre sees its YouTube performances as a stopgap while theaters and cinemas are closed, Executive Director Lisa Burger told industry website The Stage.

Still, she hopes they will “lift the spirits, bring people together and become something to talk about.”

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