Are Live Online Plays and Chats with the Actors Over Video Conference the Future of Theater?

video conferencing live plays

Sir Ian McKellen has a wealth of acting knowledge. More than 40 years on stage and screen will help with that.

It seems he’s willing to share that knowledge around too, if this clip is anything to go on.

So, when’s the best time to catch up with the multi-award winning actor and pick his mind on how to project and emote before a live audience or a dead camera?

Well, with a little forward thinking, a nice video conferencing setup, and the good grace of Sir Ian, you could chat with him right before he walks onstage at Britain’s National Theatre.

Actually, everyone you know could chat with him at the same time, right before he goes out to break a leg.

Live Theater Online

There are two steps you’ll need to undertake in order to glean a little personal acting insight from Sir Ian.

Step 1 is to get yourself in front of a computer or smartphone on December 15. Step 2–this one is a little more difficult–is to hope the National Theatre is willing to embrace just a little more technology in its now annual series of internationally broadcast live stage shows.

The National Theatre is now in its seventh year of broadcasting select live plays from its iconic London stage into cinemas around the world.

In December, Sir Ian and Patrick Stewart will star in a production of Harold Pinter’s play No Man’s Land that will get the live, worldwide broadcast treatment. While the theater’s series has been a hit–its performances are beamed into 700 cinemas across 22 countries–and while it has no doubt opened up a new audience to live theater and to the National itself, the institution could become something of a theatrical innovator by giving remote audiences the chance to actually interact with the actors, directors, theater technicians, and playwrights that create these remarkable shows.

It could do this by making its live streams available to smaller screen users, and, much like YouTube Live has done already, give over a little of its time to listening to the remote audience.

Viewing Theater’s Finest on Your iPhone

The National has done the hard part in establishing a two-way connection with theater lovers the world over. It is already capturing the live dynamics of a stage show through a multi-camera setup, which allows a director to make live cuts and close-ups of the performance as it is beamed out over the usual satellite networks that relay everything digital from sporting events to press conferences.

With permission of course, this digital stream can be manipulated to fan out across the globe via the internet and be consumed on mass video services like YouTube Live or YouNow, rather than be concentrated into a few select cinemas.

Granted you’re not going to get the same personal experience of the theater by watching through a glass screen, but the National is clearly already making concessions to the virtual audience by employing cameras angles and movement to capture views you’d never see in person (unless you spent the performance walking around the theater).

Now that we have a live performance that audiences can consume in their own homes or on the move, we just need to turn on our VC microphones and pose a few questions of our performers. I’m not suggesting we hurl queries at the stage mid-show, but there’s plenty of time for Q&A before and after the performance and at intermission.

Theater Subscriptions That Include Video Chat

Here’s the idea: The National could put together limited “access all areas” group video chats and package them along with links to the actual performance to sell as premium subscriptions. Comedian Louis CK has already demonstrated how a private company can securely and profitably avoid the monopoly of ticket agencies and sell internet-only performances to remote audiences.

The National’s package would entitle the audience member to a private VC link, which would take them backstage via group video chat, and put them before Sir Ian. Before the performance begins, Sir Ian might be handed a smartphone, or be seated in front of a laptop, and field questions from his public, much like the Pope and President Obama have done on Google Hangouts.

Taking things further, a theater technician could take a mobile device up on stage during intermission and give the remote audience a Sir Ian’s-eye-view of the grand old theater, while also explaining the mechanics of the production and the history of the auditorium before fielding questions.

Alternatively, the National could stream its performances on video conferencing’s answer to social media, Blab, and offer audiences a live commentary from directors and playwrights as the play unfolds. Before the show starts, or during intervals, these experts could field live video questions from the remote audience.

It’s a great way to give people a personal experience of the living theater, and could open opportunities to experience the theater for people with mobility problems, schoolchildren around the world, and theater buffs, just to name a few. And the technology is already on hand to bring the general public closer to the inner workings of stage life than has ever occurred in thousands of years of performance.

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