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Guest Blog: Applecart Arts' Will Alder On Creating Live-streamed Shows

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The company has pivoted to digital work - but still want it to feel like theatre

Guest Blog: Applecart Arts' Will Alder On Creating Live-streamed Shows
Will Alder

Live-streamed theatre. Does it work? This is a regular question I get asked when chatting to new companies about this medium of creating shows.

Applecart Arts' history is rooted in storytelling and using stories to challenge, change and strengthen communities. In March, with the country finding itself in lockdown, we began to discuss how we could best support the UK theatre industry and our local and wider communities in making sense of this strange new reality. I was keen for Applecart to explore live-streaming - we have experience of short documentary and filmmaking, and as such had some broadcast quality cameras in our stock. All we needed was a vision mixer and to do some work in the theatre to make us livestream ready!

After a few months of setting up, rerouting cables around the building and general maintenance, we were ready. In mid July, The Flying Seagull Project was the first company in our theatre, and we were quick to play with the new possibilities of this medium. Unlike many pre-existing livestreams, or archive recordings, we wanted to make an experience designed specifically for those watching at home, so that it didn't feel like a consolatory prize for not being in the theatre itself. We therefore adapted the Flying Seagull Project's show so that audience interaction elements (such as children coming onto stage and telling jokes) were played in via a pre-recorded video.

The show was broadcast to thousands of primary school children across the UK and beyond, who could engage with this feel-good theatre piece whether they were together in the classroom or at home. From here, we realised what a brilliant tool live-streaming could be for us and for our visiting theatre companies - a tool that enables live theatre to have a global reach, and an audience of thousands.

In our first five live-streamed shows, we reached nearly 7,000 people worldwide. For 72% of our audiences, it was the first live-streamed show they'd watched since the beginning of lockdown, and for another 30%, it was the first live-streamed show they'd ever seen. Just 45% of our audiences have been London-based, and only 49% would have been able to come to the venue. A whopping 96% want to see more live-streamed performances from Applecart Arts.

Guest Blog: Applecart Arts' Will Alder On Creating Live-streamed Shows
Applecart Arts

Despite this change in how we present the theatre that comes to our venue, our desire to support storytelling remains the same. The process of live-streaming a show is not only about getting the right equipment and the right people to run it - it's about getting the story right for a home-based audience.

How do the stories we want to tell as theatre-makers change when presented digitally? How can we work with the technology we use to take the show to the next step? How can direct address to camera enhance the experience for audience members? How will differing camera angles enhance the narrative? What happens when we incorporate pre-recorded elements into a live version of the show?

So many of these questions are new to us as theatre-makers and storytellers. We're used to having an audience in the space with us, and hearing that reaction to creating make-believe on stage. And we still want to do that - make theatre that is specific to our time now - rather than adapting theatre so that it better fits the model of a TV show, or a film. The best shows we've streamed so far have made theatre that embraces technology as part of this new mode of theatre-making, and a new stage in their creative practice.

Live-streamed theatre is something we are all getting used to, both as makers and for our audiences. Its potential benefits are huge - and what a fantastic way of continuing to create, make and bring make-believe to audiences around the globe at a time when people are experiencing frustration, despair and grief. We're forging our way into this strange new world, and still creating new work and supporting emerging artists against the odds. And that is something to be celebrated.

Find out more about Applecart Arts here

Photos courtesy of Will Alder



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