A multi-purpose arts venue with track record of adapting to change
Marcus Lilley writes about the reopening of Riverside Studios.
“Our digital ambition will be to help bring the work of arts organisations around the country to new audiences. Riverside will support the turning point in how audiences experience performing arts using all forms of modern technology.”
This is a statement of intent from the newly rebuilt Riverside Studios in London ahead of its reopening in 2018. As a multi platform arts venue that has adapted throughout its existence to the new artistic challenges of the time, it seems befitting to illustrate it as an example of the new artistic challenges that digital technologies such as Virtual Reality.
History of Riverside Studios
Located on the River Thames in London, The Riverside Studios began life as a film studio when the Triumph Film Company moved into a former industrial warehouse in the early 1930’s. In 1954 the studio was acquired by the BBC and became known as the BBC Riverside Studios notable productions that were made there included early episodes of Doctor Who and the rooftop camera position was pivotal in the coverage of the University Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge.
Theatre Director, Playwright and Actor Peter Gill was appointed as the venue’s first artistic director in 1976 and the venue soon became known as a hotbed for acclaimed theatre and dance productions as well as an emerging gallery. A notable first also occurred in 1982 as the venue was chosen for the launch party for the infant Channel 4.
In late 1990’s a decision was taken to adapt the space for commercial television use and soon it became home to a number of notable television programmes including The Apprentice: You’re Fired!, Celebrity Juice and Russell Howard’s Good News. Developments in relationships with established experimental theatre companies such as Theatre de Complicite and The Wooster Group followed as well.
As well as developing relationships with Edinburgh Digital Entertainment Festival, The Riverside Studios have also been involved with a commissions by the BBC / Arts Council England backed The Space. Productions have included Raz by Jim Cartwright and In the Land of our Fathers which is going to be streamed on BBC Arts Online on Monday 14th November a collaboration between Wales Millennium Centre, Theatre503 and Tara Finney Productions. Watch the trailer below:
The Riverside Studios closed in 2014 for demolition is due to reopen in 2018.
“Digital is one of those strange words. It is something everybody wants to engage with, yet very few people know what to do with it. We wanted to look at where the industry is now and think about where it might be going in the future”, says current artistic director of the Riverside Studios William Burdett-Coutts.
This article is not singling out The Riverside Studios for specific praise, rather it is to illustrate that in order to develop our artistic investigations in the use and power of new technologies we need to focus our efforts. A multi purpose arts venue with a history and track record of responding and adapting to change helps our endeavours. Obviously technology is disrupting our ways of working on a day to day level and is not an isolating occurrence, the development of ideas, experimentation with artistic endeavours and assessing the communication needs a home. Platforms such as The Space illustrate the need for a presence where artists, disruptors and innovators can go and make the sort of groundbreaking artistic work using technology that we all want to see.