Creating theatre that can be enjoyed by everybody, everywhere.
A gratifying side effect of this pandemic, for a theatre industry hit hard, has been the slow yet distinct emergence of new audiences for our art. Speaking at the first Creative Victoria Recovery Roadmap Webinar recently, Tandi Palmer Williams from Patternmakers suggested that we are entering ‘one of the most exciting periods for audience development of our time’ – it’s a reflection grounded in optimism, pointing to presentation opportunities that we should start thinking about now, well before the doors of Victorian theatres open to audiences again. Yes, there will be patrons who choose to stay away from theatre for an indefinite period, but they will still want to watch an on-demand recording of your production or join the livestream. Conversely, there will be patrons you have never met who would like to be in the audience too, especially if they don’t have to leave home, pay a babysitter, drive across town or find a carpark. There will be patrons who may or may not have seen any of your work before, but are happy to give you, and your art, a go if it’s as easy as their tech-savvy friends say it is – just click a button, buy a ticket and settle back into their favourite chair.
Then there are all of the patrons you have perhaps been excluding from the theatrical experience before now, without realising it. Theatre-lovers who live out of town, or on budgets that don’t extend to the arts; theatre-lovers who don’t drive, or live where the public transport options are few; students, shift-workers, the unemployed, the frail elderly. You’ve also perhaps been excluding, without realising it, theatre-lovers living with disability. Sure, provided your venue caters for their specific needs, and they let the venue know about these in advance, they can be in the audience at your show. But an interactive theatrical experience in which they can share their post-show feedback with other audience members, in a virtual bar where the snacks are on-tap and the champagne is also reasonably priced, both hailing from their kitchen – you can’t give them that level of ease, access and comfort, and you’ve never been able to. Until now.
Yes, we all love going to the theatre, and most of us can’t wait to get back to it. But with research suggesting that most of us in fact won’t – at least not immediately, not until there is a vaccine, not until this pandemic is finally, completely Over (and did you catch the advertised date for that?) – now is the time to start exploring options for the delivery of your art to audiences past and present, but most of all Future. In fact, explore the concept being referred to as ‘Dual Delivery’ – this being the delivery of a product in a physical space, enhanced/bolstered/necessarily supported by the delivery of the same product in an online mode. Deliver them at the same time, or days or weeks apart – you choose. It’s important for all of us who are serious about sharing our art to start thinking about what’s possible – because even when it becomes possible, months down the track, to once again stage a production to a packed house, there will be patrons who will need, and have come to expect, a theatrical experience they can sink into from the comfort of their homes. Their 2020 experience of working from home, of dining out by staying in, of connecting with friends via Zoom, and of having their entertainment needs met within a computer screen, has changed your patrons forever – and it thrown up some exciting options for us, the playwrights and theatre-makers of 2021 and beyond.
With much curiosity and great anticipation,
Melbourne Writers’ Theatre