Wrestling for arm space, broken seats and long queues for the loo. You’d be forgiven for not missing the somewhat less favourable experiences that come with a visit to the theatre. So perhaps in good timing, the pandemic has forced theatres look more closely at how they can continue with their productions in a safe and socially distanced manner. There are some theatres, for example, that have taken it upon themselves to ensure…. the show must go on!
Even before the pandemic, we were seeing an emergence of pre-recorded theatre that was streamed online, as well as live productions presented over Zoom. Over lockdown, many of these shows became free for the public to view, whilst more popular shows continue to require a subscription fee.
Not only has this enabled theatres to increase donations, these shows have been a highly successful way to reach a much larger audience. When London’s National Theatre streamed its 2011 production of, ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ on YouTube, 200,000 people tuned in – that’s 200 times the audience capacity of where the production was originally performed.
Accessibility for all
According to a report by Arts Council England, evidence confirms that the largest group of theatregoers within and outside London continues to be middle-aged and older patrons (aged 45-74). The data also shows that people from ethnic minority backgrounds continue to be under-represented in the theatre audience, despite some small recent growth in their numbers.
For some, the price of going to the theatre was literally too high. Ticket concessions and travel were just some of the obstacles that faced those with an interest in the arts. Thankfully, with access to this technology, people of all ages and backgrounds are able to enjoy the rich culture of theatre.
The future of theatre
Whilst it’s groundbreaking to have access to such technology, you might agree that there’s nothing like the real thing. Theatres are looking at more sustainable ways to fill up their empty seats, in a manner that is safe for their audiences. In an interview with the Guardian, McAslan, an architect, recognised a life-long problem with the theatre industry and is calling for change. He said: “The West End is full of wonderful historic theatres, but they’re now completely outmoded. People are four inches taller than when they were built, so the seats are too small, the sight lines are terrible and a huge number of seats are restricted by columns. The air is bad and the loos and bars are always too small to cope.”
Amongst many of his suggestions, he hopes to create an entirely different space for venues. “It’s a bit like a 1930s lounge seat,” McAslan explains. “It’s slightly wider than a usual theatre seat and double-raked, with each row separated by two steps rather than one.” The main difference being an acyclic screen that separates audience members from each other. “It’s to give a sense of visual connection, but physical separation,” says McAslan. “Part of this is getting people feeling comfortable with the idea of sitting side by side with strangers again.”
Theatre-makers are cautiously optimistic about these changes. It may not have been ideal, but the pandemic has fuelled a new wave of passion and creativity for the theatre, whether you choose to view it in person or online.
If you’re ready to take your cue, we have a range of performing arts courses that will help shine a spotlight on your career. At Walsall College, you’ll have the opportunity to work with professional directors, choreographers and musical directors from around the world – all from our onsite theatre and dance studios.