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Monday, January 25, 2010

You know that digital revolution some have been talking about coming to theatre?  Well: it's here. offers high-quality videos of full-length performances by some of today’s most provocative artists working in dance, theater, music and other forms that defy categorization. By pointing several high power cameras at a show and offering the results online, fans of contemporary performance finally have better access to high-quality videos of the artists they want to see regardless of where they live or their busy schedules at prices they can afford. Participating artists and venues share all profits, offering artists not only a new method for reaching broader audiences but a new revenue stream as well. We believe will help encourage people to go see live performances and participate in the ongoing dialogue about exciting new art and ideas.

The inspiration for came in part from our success over the past 6 years offering online resources that accompany our live season presentations including performance review blogs, artist interviews, podcast lectures and other media. During that time participation in these online activities markedly increased, setting the stage for an online performance initiative that greatly improves the out-dated documentation practice of focusing one camera from the last row of a theater at a live performance and tucking the result into a library or archive with limited access. With lead support from The Wallace Foundation and additional support from DanceUSA, we are able to work with talented filmmakers, camera operators, editors, web designers, programmers, data crunchers and amazing artists to pilot and evaluate over the next 3 years.
Quite a notable development, if they can make it fly, for many reasons--one of which is just the influence of new media on contemporary theatre practice.  Note the role that more everyday "online resources" played in the hatching of this plan.  And so while the impulse to record theatre on film is as old as the cinema itself, it took interactive technology and internet distribution to make it happen (potentially) in an accessible way.

Claudio La Rocco has more on it in the Times.

So, for instance, you say you didn't catch Young Jean Lee's The Shipment last season, one of the most buzzed shows downtown?  Well I didn't, and now I'm delighted I can watch it in what looks like (from the "trailer") a pretty damn well filmed & edited version.  Reports La Rocco, "The Shipment was recorded by four HD cameras and a sound technician during its run in October at On the Boards and edited, with her input, under the direction of Matt Daniels of Thinklab, a Seattle production company."  Pretty sweet.

The personnel seem especially savvy about the value of what they're doing:
“What our culture cares about, it tends to record and distribute,” Mr. Czaplinski said during a recent panel discussion at Performance Space 122, a New York partner of He pointed to sports and pornography, to titters from the industry crowd. “The live artist in a theater is still paramount. But we’re in a shifting world.”
“What we’re doing is creating the live-art equivalent of a museum catalog,” Sarah Wilke, managing director for On the Boards, said. “The world is definitely moving toward a wider view of experience. I think the arts are in danger of losing market share if we don’t provide a parallel experience.”
They're right in saying, basically, if you're not online these days you're not happening.

But what they're also onto is: if you can't reproduce, distribute and sell your product beyond the 99 seats in your theatre for two weeks, your artform has little future economically.

These may sound like sad observations.  And perhaps the concern with "market share" may dismay some theatre lovers.  But here's a case where it seems some folk are doing smart things without sacrificing the art.

We'll see, I guess.  But for a $50 Netflix-like annual "subscription" to the service, I think I might give it a try.

(Compare also the pay-per-view option to real life theatre tickets: $5 to rent one "streaming" viewing, $15 to download and buy the video outright.)

1 comment:

Ken said...

I think this is a great idea. I've always thought that every production (or as many as is feasible) should be videotaped--not necessarily in any slick, multi-angle way, but propably just a camera on a tripod from the back of the house--to provide a record of what it was, yet not attempt in any way to replace the live experience. If these were widely distributed, they could perhaps ignite a taste for live theater in the uninitiated. I have my fingers crossed that this current incarnation of that idea (OnTheBoards) goes over big and has that effect.