Wednesday, November 30, 2016



Theater Resources Unlimited (or TRU) is one of the two most important groups training potential producers (and writers and other creators) for professions in the theater. (The other is CTI, the Commercial Theater Institute.)

TRU holds regular panel discussions on many issues of importance to theater professionals. Recently, they held a panel on “Live Streaming and Digital Capture: Bringing Theater into the 21st Century”.

This panel, oriented towards producers, concentrated on the producing challenges necessary for capturing theatrical performances, either for live streaming or later presentation.

Moderator and TRU President Bob Ost
And Panelists Kathryn Jones, Stewart F Lane, and Bonnie Comley
Photo by Eric Roffman - QPORIT

One panelist, Kathryn Jones, CEO of VirtualArtsTV, discussed designing a show so that it can incorporate modern social media into the show organically. She works largely with independent theater productions and commercial presentations.

Also on the panel were Broadway producers Stewart F. Lane (Tony Award®-winning producer for A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, War Horse, Jay Johnson: The Two & Only, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Will Rogers Follies and La Cage Aux Folles) and Bonnie Comley (Tony Award-winning producer for Jay Johnson: The Two and Only, War Horse and A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder), co-founders of Broadway HD.

Broadway HD is a company they founded specifically to video capture Broadway theater for live streaming presentations, and for later presentations on the web or in movie houses.

In fact, they recently captured the Roundabout Theater Presentation of SHE LOVES ME, with Laura Benanti, Zachary Levi and Jane Krakowski, and, partnered with Fathom Events, will be presenting it in movie theaters on Dec 1(See below & Check your local listings!)

Much of the discussion centered on two basic issues – first, gaining the rights needed to video capture and release the video of the production: unions want to make sure the actors and crew are compensated and the shows’ producers want to be sure this video will not cannibalize their audience. Secondly, the video producers have to recoup their investment, as well as manage the technical and creative details of filming a show with a minimum of time and cost; not disturbing the production if it is still running; and being true both to the nature of the show, and the special requirements of something that will be seen on a screen.

Advocates of video capture of theater believe it can help, rather than hinder, the success of a show; can provide an additional revenue stream to the show; and, of course, provide a lasting record of theatrical performances whose details would otherwise vanish after they close.

There was also some talk about Virtual Reality as the next stage of video presentation of shows. Here is my take on the importance of XR.

EXTENDED REALITY (XR) is my term for all the new ways to extend storytelling with new technologies, including Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality, spatial sound, and more…

At this point, capturing shows already on Broadway is challenging enough. There is still even more resistance to XR than to videotaping at this time. However, the promise of XR for the future is tremendous!

XR is closely related to immersive theater.

Film, even 3D film, gives you the feeling of watching a story. Proscenium theater is also something you watch from a distance. By contrast, XR can provide the feeling of being right there, where the action is taking place. There can be the impulse to reach out and touch the people (or even the animated characters) that are “living” right next to you.

One consequence, when shooting live action, panoramic, 3D XR content, is that you want the entire space to be accessible to the viewer. So, you have to get the crew & lights & tech stuff out of the way -- out of the picture; and you often want long takes so the viewer has time can look around and feel they are in a real space. To do that, the script, the set design, and the actors all can best treat each scene as if they are living it. In other words, the techniques of creating immersive theater are very valuable in creating XR content.

Similarly, theater – even proscenium theater -- often tries to create real life in each scene (even though the audience is looking in from more or less one single direction and from varying distances). XR can take theatrical stories, and with just a little restaging, present the play to the viewer as if the viewer were actually right there in the space with the actors. It can bring the participant into the presence of a story in a far more intense and intimate way than simple 2D film in a frame, or any other mode of storytelling.

But, as I noted before, there is still resistance. For example… Broadway HD has on their site a video of Julie Taymor’s brilliant production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream that opened the TFANA theater in Brooklyn a few years ago. Shortly after the show was filmed, I happened to talk with Julie Taymor and I asked her if she had considered filming it in Virtual Reality. (It was a production that would be perfect for VR.) She screwed up her face just a bit, and mimed putting her hands in front of her eyes, and asked Do you mean that thing you put on… that covers your face?

In fact, several shows, including Sleep No More, Hamilton, and Cirque De Soleil, have experimented with capturing XR. Mostly, however, these and other shows are, so far, just experimenting with short scenes, demos, and promos.

Perhaps the most exciting merging of XR and theater so far occurs now on Broadway in The Encounter. Simon McBurney & Complicite have incorporated spatial sound (using earphones) as an integral and essential part of the performance.

As XR headsets (from Oculus Rift, Gear VR, HoloLens, Daydream and other systems) improve their resolution (and their accommodation to eyeglasses); as cameras for 3D panoramic capture improve and become more affordable and available; and as post-production software for creating and editing 3D panoramic video improve; all, over the next year or two: I believe that the natural symbiosis between immersive theater and XR will become more and more enjoyable, important, and ubiquitous.










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