National Theatre's "Frankenstein" starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller
A new proposal made by UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt would require arts, culture and heritage groups to broadcast their performances on a new digital arts channel which would help live performances "reach the largest possible audiences free of charge."
In doing so, these groups would receive government funding, and would ensure that their artistic endeavours reach a broader spectrum. Mr. Hunt compared the initiative to The Space
, an online venture by the BBC and Arts Council England that provided online and smartphone access to various live performances and cultural events.The Space
is only a temporary initiative, but Mr. Hunt believes its success speaks mountains about the advantages of new technology and the abundant benefits similar ventures could provide to arts organisations.
"Should we turn this into something much more ambitious? A permanent digital channel with live broadcasts every night of our very finest cultural offerings? Indeed, should it be a condition of government funding to supply some live content...?", Mr. Hunt said
in a recent speech at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.
Similar initiatives have also been undertaken by companies such as Glyndebourne and The National Theatre, the former of which is screening five of its operas across British cinemas, and the later which has also broadcasted some of its most popular theatrical works on the big screen, many of which have even been screened internationally.
Filmed screenings of musicals have also been steadily rising, following the popular cinema screenings of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s "The Phantom of the Opera", which was later released on DVD, as well as Steven Sondheim’s "Company" starring Neil Patrick Harris, Stephen Colbert and Patti LuPone.
Mr. Hunt went on to say that arts groups would wholeheartedly embrace this idea because it was "part of their core mission to make sure that their output is seen by as many people as possible", but he did not offer any further suggestions into how a channel would be managed or funded. Following his speech, officials were quick to inform the public that Mr. Hunt had not yet put forward any concrete proposals, and that these would have to come from the Arts Council before they could be realised.
Some have questioned whether the practice of filming live works can ever live up to the experience of seeing the work performed in front of your eyes. The National Theatre carried out research on the subject, and found that audiences watching broadcasts of a play were more "emotionally engaged" than those who were actually present at the live performance, and that there was a wider variety of audience members at the cinema screenings than there was at the live performances.
Money might be a big factor in the findings of this research, as many might not be able to afford the expensive price of a theatre ticket. Furthermore, those who buy cheaper tickets to the live shows are given cheap seats, which do not provide the greatest view of the stage and its actors, a factor which could lessen their emotional engagement to the work.
Artistic Director of the English National Opera John Berry takes a different view on the issue.
"This obsession about putting new work out into the cinema can distract from making amazing quality work. It is of no interest to me. It is not our priority. It doesn't create new audiences, either," he said
Despite the conflicting views, The National Theatre’s sold-out screenings of their taped screenings has proved that there is a suitable demand for such initiatives. It now only remains to be seen whether this same demand would be matched for less well-known performances by smaller artistic companies.