In an interview featured the website of The Independent today (Tuesday 20th May) actress Gemma Arterton has expressed her reservations about the growing practice of broadcasting ‘live’ televised relays of theatrical performances, see here – GEMMA ARTERTON INTERVIEW
I can understand Arterton’s concerns over her perceived degree of theoretical inauthenticity in a practice involves the televising for posterity a performance that wasn’t originally intended for the cameras. The implication drawn from her interview is that seeing a performance in the flesh is inherently ‘better’ than watching a broadcast or recording of it.
This is where Arterton and I part company.
I’m not seeking to get into an argument over which of live theatre and film recording is superior, though no doubt some would welcome one.
There are no doubt many who regard live theatre production as one of the highest forms of performance art precisely because it is as ‘in the moment’ as you can possibly get. Every ‘live’ theatre performance is inherently distinctive, not only because there is a different audience to the one before, but because another day of life has gone by.
Within that 24 hours, there may have been either or both world-shattering disasters and infinitely joyous national events, or a thousand different incidents affecting the personal lives of individual members of the audience and cast. All and any of the above could prompt a different atmosphere in the auditorium, or (of course) different personal moods amongst the audience members and actors, than there would have been at either a performance 24 hours previously, or indeed another 24 hours hence. And any/all of those could affect the performance as experienced by both the actors and audience.
That said, I’m writing this as someone who has given up going to the theatre – and indeed, going to most sporting contests – in the flesh. Due to a combination of inherent personal reasons and my decades of ‘live’ attendances, these days I am increasingly underwhelmed by the prospect of joining hordes of others in order to indulge in communal ‘live experiences’.
Give me a ‘live’ televised relay every time, I say. For me, the upsides – I’m referring to personal enjoyment, lack of time wasted and the benefits of not having to jostle and spend time exposed to large crowds – infinitely outweigh any heightened artistic experience/appreciation I might gain by attending anything in person.
I can see how Artherton might be worried that, taking everything to its logical conclusion, there might be dangers for the future of ‘live’ theatre in too much ‘live relay’ televising. After all, perhaps one day, like me, fewer and fewer people might bother to go out to the theatre – and presumably no actor enjoys effectively putting his or her life on the line for a half-filled auditorium or worse.
In my view, however, there’s room for all.
There will always be packed paying audiences for great ‘live’ theatre productions. But, on the other hand, there are also hundreds of millions of us, many so far untapped, who – for all kinds of reasons, ranging from inability to unwillingness – would prefer to watch theatre performances and/or sporting contests via relay, if they were available.
I’ve worked in companies involved in broadcasting live performances of ballet and opera.
I have also attended several ‘live’ cinema relays of opera performances from America, involving both subtitles and ‘backstage’ coverage at the interval, and found them not just tremendously enjoyable but more rewarding (as an overall experience) than previous occasions upon which I’ve been to similar productions in person.
Surely there are now enough people in this world to support both live theatre as it would wish to be supported … and in addition ‘live relays’ that take such performances to the masses.