As Live Venues Remain Closed, Digital Theatre Takes Off

Digital recordings and live streams may be used even more in the future for theatre and concerts

By Isabel Sinnott

Staff Writer

Watch Ben Platt, Jordan Fisher, and the Casts of Dear Evan Hansen Sing 'You  Will Be Found' on James Corden's Late Late Show #HomeFest | Playbill

Ben Platt and the current cast of Dear Evan Hansen united in March to sing “You Will Be Found” on the Late Late Show with James Cordon (from playbill.com)

When the world shut down in March, live theatre and performances shut down with it. Broadway closed on March 13, and Hammond High School’s performance of The Addams Family shut down after only one performance on Thursday, March 12. 

At the start of quarantine, many actors and performers participated in cast reunions and livestreams, but as it has been clear live venues cannot simply reopen, artists have begun to look at ways to share theatre digitally. 

There have been several ways that theatre has been digitally shared in the past. Live recordings of performances, such as Newsies and more recently, Hamilton, have been released on streaming platforms. Recorded theatre gives audiences a different experience with theatre; Ana Coman, a student who has acted in the musicals at Hammond, stated “I feel like the echoes and vibrations that you feel in person would be lost.”

Another more recent method of sharing digital theatre is through live stream performances that were done on Zoom. Team Starkid has recently produced the series, Nightmare Time, a horror comedy musical series featuring 15 actors that was recorded on Zoom and live streamed on YouTube. However, theatre experienced digitally is very different from theatre experienced in person. As Mrs. Tobiason, the theatre teacher at Hammond, states, “a quiet, darkened theatre is so lovely when it comes to being able to suspend disbelief and go on a fictional journey.”

The separation of the theatre from the outside world allows audiences to become more fully immersed in the story, but digital or recorded theatre could still allow shows to be performed while they cannot be shown in person. Ada Wang, a member of Hammond’s tech crew, states that she does not believe digital theatre can be a good substitute for live theatre because, “There is a certain appeal to be able to sit in seats watching the performance live that digital performances could not replicate.”

However, even when live venues can reopen, there would need to be a number of precautions and protocols to ensure safety. Mrs. Tobiason states that, “Limiting audience size, mandating temperature checks, mask wearing, and increased sanitation measures are requirements”.

Hammond has also been taking steps to continue theatre this year. Dramastics, the Hammond improv group, is set to perform online this fall, and Mrs. Tobiason has stated that, “I’m hopeful we can do some sort of Spring performance, though a musical seems less likely with the risks that singing brings.”

The future is still uncertain, and so it cannot be known when theatres and live venues can open up, meaning that these methods of online performances may become the main method of performing for the near future. Though some local venues, such as Toby’s Dinner Theatre, are reopening, others like Merriweather Post Pavilion are still closed for several more months. With the world changing so rapidly, many theatre performers and companies may start looking at ways to share theatre online. 

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