Tuesday, 9 November 2021

How theatre is using digital screens and other types of new technology to meet growing demand


Pretty much wherever you look you are going to come across digital screens. They are increasingly being used by entertainment venues as a way to advertise upcoming events and shows. Many are ripping out their poster frames and billboards and putting up large flat screens instead. Replacing paper posters with digital ones.

Cinemagoers barely notice the change from paper to digital posters

This is particularly the case for cinemas, who for several years have been gradually moving from paper-based show advertising to digital posters. To date, there has been hardly any resistance to this change from audiences. Partly because it has been done gradually and partly because cinemagoers enjoy being surrounded by digital images.

Theatregoers still want a traditional experience

However, digital posters are not right for every venue. Many theatres have decided not to use them. For many theatregoers, the ambience is just as important as the show that they are going to see. They enjoy stepping out of the glary modern world into a theatre foyer. Into a place where they, to some extent, can step back in time and enjoy an ambience that is not available anywhere else. Replacing paper posters with digital signage solutions would spoil that experience for many. They want the full experience which includes traditional posters. Displays that they recognise and love.

So much so, that old theatre posters are becoming increasingly collectable, as you can see here. From the looks of things, traditional theatre posters and billboards are here to stay.

Co-vid creates new demand and speeds up the adoption of new technology

This is not a sign that theatres are not willing to adopt new technology. Far from it. During the CoVid pandemic, in most countries, the majority of theatres had to close completely. Some did so for over a year. However, that did not stop them from performing. Instead, they turned to new technology.

They realised that demand for live performances was even higher than it was pre-pandemic. People had the time to explore the arts in a way that was just not possible for them before. They wanted more than anything to be transported to another place for a few hours by watching a play or show. As soon as theatre owners realised this, they responded by finding ways to meet that demand, despite being closed.

How digital performance technology is being used to meet the growing demand for live theatre

Take, for example, Britain's Royal Shakespeare Company. Even before CoVid, recordings of their performances were being watched in cinemas. So, they had quite a bit of experience of performing plays in a way that meant they could be recorded and would playback well on the big screen. When the pandemic struck, they built on that experience, enhancing their digital age stagecraft.

In March 2021, they collaborated with Manchester International Festival, Marshmallow Laser Feast and The Philharmonia Orchestra to perform Dream in front of a 7,000 strong online audience. The production which was inspired by Shakespeare's A Midsummer's Night Dream had been due to open in early 2020, but the pandemic meant that was impossible. As you can see here, it was very well received.

Theatre companies are now able to perform in front of far bigger audiences

There is no doubt that digital performances are here to stay. Not everyone has the time and money to travel to see the plays and shows they want. Digital theatre can solve that problem for them and enable them to enjoy the live performance in a slightly different format.

That is a huge win for the theatre putting on the production. Not only can they fill every seat, but they can also now earn extra revenue from everyone who watches their play or show remotely. Providing them with a far wider customer base than they would otherwise have. This is especially good news for small regional theatres, which now have a reach they could only have dreamed of having, just a few years ago.

Booming demand means a bright future for the whole theatre industry

When the pandemic struck, many predicted that many theatres would never reopen. Sadly, some have not, at least not yet. But most have and that is at least in part because of the way the industry has adapted and used new technology. Doing so wisely, adopting only those things that add to, rather than detract from a theatregoer’s experience.

So, we are not likely to see the beloved paper posters so many audience members enjoy being replaced by digital display screens. But they may well be used in the bar as a digital menu, so theatregoers can see at a glance the full range of drinks that are on offer. Or, maybe in other areas of the theatre to subtly advertise merchandise, workshops and more.

With that balanced approach to new technology, there is little doubt that the theatre industry will emerge from CoVid stronger than before. Ready to continue entertaining audiences for several hundred more years.
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