I have worked in Theatre all my adult life - although not always in the Theatre where people come to watch shows. Prior to becoming a director, I worked in NHS operating theatres in the 1980’s after training at Leeds Medical School and becoming a Dental Surgeon. As part of my training we followed the ‘Observe, Assist, Do’ method of learning. In this you observed the first operation, assisted on the second one, and for the third time, you did it on your own - under supervision.
This is the practical way of learning by doing. It is not until you start something and get involved can you fully understand and appreciate what you need to do, and how you need to work towards the successful outcome.
It is this learning by doing that has informed my practice in all my subsequent work as a director, writer and more recently, as a filmmaker. So, I wanted to create a guide for Theatres to be able to make a start on developing their Live to Digital work. In this I have drawn on my experience of starting to livestream theatre back in 2008, and this early learning has led me to where I am today.
In the most recent livestream from Theatre Royal Stratford East we were able to deliver an ultra HD feed to Richard House Children’s Hospice who had invited families, siblings and carers of the children who were resident, and set up a big party in their meeting room which was equipped with a projector, full screen and surround sound.
A real moment happened when the actors, and the whole audience in the theatre sang Happy Birthday to a girl called Hope who was four that day. She had been at the Hospice for a while and was there with her family, her face lit up when she heard her name called on the big screen and when everyone in the room joined in too and she turned and smiled at us all. I caught her grandfather’s eye as he wiped away a tear. He saw me and nodded back - we had both just shared a moment of what it meant to be human.
I know first-hand that live to digital can play an important part of developing new audiences and making real engagement happen.
So hopefully this guide is going to get you started. It allows you to work with your whole organisation, and it is written to enable all departments to find the information they need to answer some of the questions that will always arise. Why are we doing this? Who is it for? How much does it cost? All these areas are covered, and I have created an interactive document that allows you to follow certain areas of the subject and you it can be used as part of your team learning and training.
I have taken an approach that allows you to make first steps with live to digital capture with smart phones and social media platforms, right through to a range of full camera capture and Ultra HD delivery. There are a range of budget options for equipment and a guide to some technical know how. There are built in links that take you to further areas of equipment and further reading around audiences, access capabilities and distribution platforms.
The key thing is making a start, so you and your teams can start that learning by doing process. It will encourage you to think creatively about what you want to capture, where you think the audience for this might be, and then how best to develop the project to deliver this idea.
This is the start of a whole new area of work, and one that should start to inform your practice and your digital thinking and strategic planning. As theatre makers we all need to develop and connect with a wider audience than we have been doing, and to make connections and creative opportunities for the many communities we are there to serve. We know from the recent research findings of AEA Consulting's From Live-To-Digital report (commissioned by Arts Council England, UK Theatre and Society of London Theatre), that new and different audiences engage with live streaming. Working with your teams and learning by doing is part of this journey.