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Digital Theatre is an oxymoron. Digital Theatre is our current reality. Digital Theatre is an abomination. Digital Theatre is an equalizer. Digital Theatre is ruining the real theatre. Digital theatre is the future of theatre.
Galway Theatre Festival 2021 occurred entirely online due to Covid-19, which required that shows be presented as Digital Theatre. But what do we mean when we say “Digital Theatre”? First of all, we have to ask what is “theatre”? Is it a person performing live in front of an audience? That could describe a lot of things, from shows to sports to religious services. Then we have to ask what is “performing”? What is “live”? What is “an audience”? Even typing up all these questions makes me dizzy. Trying to boil down any medium into its core essence is a perilous task.
Instead, let me ask a different question: what can Digital Theatre do that in person theatre cannot?
Digital Theatre can reach anyone who has an internet connection, not just those who happen to live in the right city at the right time. Unless one happens to live next to a theatre, most audiences need to travel to see shows, and while there is enormous benefit and fun involved in having a night on the town, transportation may not be easy or possible for certain audience members. While consistent internet access is not a guarantee, it does allow those who may be housebound, caring for others, lacking in transportation, living on the other side of the country, or who just want a quiet night at home to experience world class theatre.
Digital Theatre does not judge what you look like or what you wear when you attend a show. Attending in person theatre, for better and for worse, is a social event, which includes social pressures. With Digital Theatre, whether you wear pajamas, haute couture, an old hoodie, or your most expensive jewelry, watching a show online allows you to be yourself without being pressured to fit in and look “right”.
Digital Theatre doesn’t demand strict timetables and precise start times. Many people don’t work 9-5 jobs, and sometimes the most convenient time to watch a show is at 7am instead of 7pm. Shows that are streamed on YouTube or pre-recorded can be left up for 24 hours to be accessed at any time, allowing for the random occurrences of life to not hinder someone from seeing a show.
Digital Theatre can easily provide subtitles for shows. Even if the show is in English, subtitles benefit audience members who have hearing impairments and those whose first language is not English. Subtitles also allow audience members to engage with work that is performed in other languages, truly opening the doors for accessible theatre for all.
While many of us are excited for the return of in person theatre, Digital Theatre can also be a vital resource and its own creative medium, allowing theatre makers to reach new audiences. I hope that the success of Galway Theatre Festival 2021 encourages theatre makers, audiences, and arts administrators to rethink how Digital Theatre can be used in new and creative ways - truly bringing theatre to all.
Blog post written by Laura Brincat, May 13, 2021.