Can Multi-Camera Live Streaming Save the Live Theater Industry?

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by Kathryn Jones (Source: NewTek.comNewTek.com)

The problem: Audiences for live theater are in the midst of a ten year decline. How do we attract a new generation of supporters?

I am a theater lover. I have been an actor all my adult life. I went to college for theater, I apprenticed at a major regional theater, I moved to NY because of my love of the theater, I spent my twenties and early thirties doing horrible jobs because they gave me the freedom to build my life in the theater.

But the theater industry I love is struggling. The National Endowment for the arts has charted a 33% decline in attendance at live theater in the past decade. Theaters all over the US are closing or cutting back their schedules. NYC theaters I know and love cannot fill their seats, even for shows that get brilliant New York Times reviews. As I write this, actors in LA are vociferously fighting a new union contract that would require small LA theaters to pay them minimum wage. Yes, you read that right, actors are protesting getting paid… minimum wage… because the theaters won’t survive if they have to pay their actors $9 an hour.

Declining audiences, of course, means declining revenues – and no matter how noble our artistic intentions, at the end of the day money is required to put food on the table, heat in our homes, pay in our checks and curtains on our prosceniums.

Why has the theater community found itself in such an economically painful predicament? Because our audiences are changing, our industry is not.

But there is so much good news here. Challenging as these times may be, we are in the midst of a thrilling opportunity. Our audiences may be changing – but they are not disappearing. Our audiences are as passionate as ever but their priorities have transformed along with the digital age. Convenience and community are gaining in importance as our audience members decide how to spend their money and time – and often that means they don’t want to come to us anymore, they demand that we come to them. We may not be ushering them to their seats in the same numbers as before, but we are bumping into them everywhere. They are in Indianapolis, and England and Japan, and Pakistan. They are on on our websites, on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook, and on Snapchat. They are demanding that we meet them in their own town square, a global town square that is large enough to accommodate an almost infinite audience – but exists in one place, and all places, at the same time. Our audiences aren’t in decline – they’re online.

  • build new audiences
  • reach passionate global supporters
  • transform a struggling industry
  • create new models of live performance
  • build new revenue streams
  • Find new ways for theater artists to express themselves

Happily, led by The Met: Live in HD, broadcasting performance has becoming more and more accepted. Although the vast majority of broadcast productions are from the UK – surely the US won’t be too far behind. HD broadcasts are a wonderful step forward for broadening the audience for the performing arts – but these events are expensive to produce – about 1.5 million for an opera or broadway show. This is way out of the reach of 99.5% of the productions in the US.

The issue isn’t just cost. We need to build audiences that will champion our theaters, not tune in for one wonderful event and forget about us afterwards. We need to build passionate communities who will be excited to support our work year after year after year

The answer is simple: Multi-camera interactive live-streaming.

Nothing replaces the excitement of live performance and nothing creates community like live-streaming.

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