Theatre: Live and Digital

theatre and digital technology

Technology Can Open Up Theatre and the Arts

Marcus Lilley argues the power of technology lies in aiding the experience and presenting new opportunities of interacting with, producing and collaborating with the live experience.

The news recently that two exam boards no longer require seeing a live theatre performance as part of their course has been met with a lot of discourse from both sides of the argument. It is a very interesting subject because one would logically argue that seeing a theatre course would require to see live theatre. However due to groundbreaking work by companies like the National Theatre and Digital Theatre, which stream productions from venues across the country, the argument isn’t as one sided as it sounds.

I agree that seeing productions should be part of the course for studying drama, however if you have the opportunity and exposure to more shows and content online, surely one cannot miss the opportunity, not instead of the live experience but adding to it. Two examples below illustrate this:


On the 18th of November 2015, the second #LoveTheatreDay was run in partnership by the Guardian Culture Professionals Network, Twitter UK and CultureThemes to provide insight, backstage access and information on the theatre industry. This unique social experiment is a fantastic way to see theatres from the across the country and globally open their doors.  The day started at 10am with organisations encouraged to use the hashtag: #Backstage with the aim of giving audiences and idea of how a production is put together.

Love Theatre Day Dick Whittington

The second phase of the day: #AskaTheatre (3-5pm) gave people the opportunity to ask theatre’s questions about jobs, the world of theatre and the work they produce.

Love Theatre Day LoveTheatreDay Mark Thomson

The final part of the day was #showtime giving audiences the opportunity to be in a ‘virtual’ stall and being able to see a production or performance.

This collaborative act between theatres, performers, creatives and people passionate about theatre was a clear instance of the power of technology to articulate the power of theatre, the workings of theatre and what its like to work in the industry. Without the input of seeing the venues in action, the words of the directors, actors and seeing rehearsals, this digital offering would have little substance. It is not rejecting the physical act of visiting a theatre rather it is celebrating and encouraging more involvement.

Liverpool Theatre Live

Liverpool Theatre Live was a day of live streamed events on the 19th of November 2015 showcasing and celebrating theatre in Liverpool featuring contributions from 20 Stories High, Action Transport Theatre, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, Impropriety, The Lantern Theatre, Royal Court Theatre, Tmesis Theatre and Unity Theatre. The spotlight focus on a particular place gives an overview of what is happening but also harnesses the global reach of social technologies to engage with people from across the globe.

The power of technology to open up theatre and the arts in general is a huge benefit, it gives audiences the opportunity to engage with practices, performances, artists and venues in a way that is simply unprecedented. The power of social media as an engagement tool is truly wonderful.

The aftermath of the announcement by the OCR & AQA exam boards that schools can choose to show a recording of a stage play rather that seeing a live production has been met with a lot of criticism but also agreement that the exam boards have adapted to a new way of watching and being part of culture in 2016. The experience of watching a performance is the real essence of enjoying theatre, the feeling of being in one place and one time and for that experience not to be repeated again, is something hard to put into words.

However the world around us and particularly in an arts context more broadly, is being opened up and transformed by the use technology at the core of the experience. The art of watching television or a series is being transformed by on demand services like Amazon Prime and Netflix, listening to music is now a monthly streaming charge rather than buying physical singles. The physical experience is being adapted and looked at.

Technology in its many guises as a sharing tool showcased by Love Theatre Day, screenings of theatre shows by NT Live or as live streaming such as Liverpool Theatre Day, are aiding the experience of the watching. If you are unable to get to the latest new work in London or Manchester then the ability to watch the show on demand is a great way to keep your passion and interest alive. What is important to remember is that the power of technology is in what it is accompanying. When accompanying the theatrical experience it is opening up more opportunities to engage, speak to and be part of the experience but without the physical act of seeing a live production.

We need to embrace the fantastic qualities of technology in aiding our experience of watching and being part of it. There is always going to be two sides to the argument of whether or not the technology is getting in-between the live experience. The live element is the essence of theatre and something that should be encouraged, but let us also be realistic that not everyone can make every performance or venue. The power of technology ultimately lies in aiding the experience and presenting new opportunities of interacting with, producing and collaborating with the live experience.


Written by:

marcus lilley

Marcus Lilley

Founder, FutrSocial

Social Media and the Creative Industries

Marcus is a Theatre and Arts Professional with a specialism in digital and technology. He has contributed to a range of online publications including: The Guardian Culture Professionals, Create Hub, FACT Liverpool and The Double Negative. He has produced online based theatre performances that have been presented in the UK and Australia. He is a Vice Chair of Sixth Sense Theatre Company for Young People.


Image Credits: Top: “Vaudeville Theater” (Creative Commons); Lower: “Donald Tong” (Creative Commons).

Author: Amelia Glean

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