Point: Opera shown in cinemas is opening up a closed world to new audiences

Laura Battle, The Financial Times, 4/21/12

The Berlin Philharmonic orchestra's Digital Concert Hall is screening 30 live performances this year and Royal Opera House's 2011-2012 season includes five live cinema relays. Meanwhile, Glyndebourne has entered into a partnership with Picturehouse Entertainment, which will screen performances in more than 50 cinemas across the UK, and renewed its partnership with the Guardian newspaper to live-stream opera on its website. "I think the driving forces have changed," says David Pickard, Glyndebourne's general director. "Ten years ago it was very much the intention that we would film as much as we could, on the basis that if we had the rights to that material, there would at some point in the future be a secondary stream of income - and indeed that's still the case," he explains. "But the technological world is so different and now, equally important, there is this fantastic way of simply getting our work out to a broad audience.... I think all opera companies suffer because of a certain level of misunderstanding about what we present, because a lot of people don't know what we do. And if this is the start of a greater understanding, and therefore a greater interest, which will lead to more people attending live performances, then that's good for everyone." In 1923 the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham warned that concert halls would soon be left empty "if the wireless authorities are allowed to continue their devilish work". Yet there's still no sign of that happening. Despite all the recording innovations of the last 100 years, people are still drawn to the actual event: the atmosphere, the sense of occasion, the close proximity of the performers - and the risk of it all going wrong.


Counterpoint: ENO chief: screenings in cinemas don't attract new audiences

Maggie Brown, The Stage [UK], 5/8/12

English National Opera artistic director John Berry has claimed the current trend for arts organisations to screen their work live to cinemas in a bid to extend their brand was a distraction from ensuring a company delivers the best live performances possible. "It is of no interest to me," he said. "It is not a priority. It doesn't create new audiences either." Berry added: "My time is consumed with making sure the performance is absolutely as good as it can be, and getting that right on the stage, that is hard enough, and that is my focus, on live work." Berry agreed that The Metropolitan Opera's success in screening live operas to cinemas outside of the US, "has caught everyone else with their pants down," but he said they had pulled away from the competition by doing it with real conviction and investment in the transmission process, allied to their powerful brand. The Financial Times reported last month that the Met's [cinema showings] were generating profits of around $10-$12 million a year from ticket sales.  Berry added: "[ENO] spends most of its time making sure its performances are bullet proof. It takes all my time. Get what you know right; choose carefully anything else. But this obsession about putting work out into the cinema can distract from making amazing quality work." Last month, Sky Arts director James Hunt urged arts organisations not to shy away from entering into partnerships with broadcasters. He revealed that Sky Arts' partnership with ENO between 2003 and 2009 had not generated one production for broadcast, claiming organisations like ENO are often fearful that to screen their work on TV would "cannibalise" their audience. Hunt claimed broadcasting theatrical productions can actually generate an audience for venues, because viewers are encouraged to see a production live on the back of a broadcast.


Commentary: Is seeing an art exhibition on a movie screen a good idea?

Roberta Smith, The New York Times, 2/16/12

Viewing an art exhibition on the big screen of a movie theater is not my idea of an optimal art experience. But if, like me, you wish you had traveled to London for the blockbuster exhibition devoted to Leonardo da Vinci that recently completed its three-month, sold-out run at the National Gallery, you may find yourself doing just that, and gratefully. [In February, the film "Leonardo Live" had showings] at nearly 500 movie theaters across the United States -- and at many others around the world -- a screening billed as "a first-of-its-kind cinema event." In a time when various performing-arts organizations are increasingly expanding both access and revenue by beaming high-definition video performances into movie houses around the world, "Leonardo Live" may the first instance of the format being applied to an art exhibition. Thankful as I am to have an inkling of what the Leonardo show was like, I can't say that it is entirely a promising debut. "Leonardo Live" is without a doubt the next best thing to being there. But the art part of the equation in this film is much, much less immediate and dominant than it is in a broadcast of an opera, ballet, concert or play viewed in a movie theater or even on television. A performance, unfolding in real time, fills most of the broadcast; commentary is relegated to the moments when the curtain is down. As "Leonardo Live" proves, when the subject is an art exhibition, the commentary takes over, and we are swamped with fancy, sometimes illuminating window dressing. We come away with a palpable sense of what the exhibition looked like and some welcome but superficial views, via camera, of the paintings. But we haven't come close to experiencing the art ourselves.


Commentary: Bloggers battle over best way to bring theatre to an online audience

Matt Trueman, The Guardian [UK] Theatre Blog, 4/26/12

Broadly speaking, theatre exists in two forms online. There's theatre as digital content -- live broadcasts and so on -- and there's digital content related to theatre, like marketing or education tools. The first, as regular readers will know by now, is all about liveness. At Whatsonstage.com, Honour Bayes reckons there's still a division over this. "Non-believers feel the very nature of what they love is being eroded," she writes, "whilst believers think this is an exciting way to find new converts to the cause." Strangely, the way she puts it reduces such content to marketing -- in this formulation live broadcasts merely function as gateways, attempts to seduce new audiences into theatres, rather than things that have intrinsic artistic merit. But isn't this just a desirable side-effect? After all, an MP3s still serve a valuable purpose if listeners never go to gigs; arguably more so. Recordings and broadcasts reach audiences of their own. At Forest Fringe at the Gate, Postcards from the Gods' Andrew Haydon watched theatremaker Chris Thorpe perform a piece that also exists as a YouTube video. "What's odd here," he reflects, "is that I know a particular performance of the piece ... Seeing it live is like seeing a band play a song you know well slightly differently." Daniel B Yates does the same with a live transmission. Breaking with critical tradition, he reviews National Theatre Wales's new production The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning - a piece about the soldier who leaked to Wikileaks - without actually going to it. NTW are broadcasting every performance over the internet and Yates focuses on that online experience. There "is a definite form of liveness," he says. While watching, viewers can communicate with each other via a textbox onscreen and the design is neatly self-aware, "surrounded by CCTV graphics which frame your viewing, quite literally, as one of voyeurism." Yates also points out that there have been public screenings followed by post-show discussions. "To demand that theatre back out of all this in the name of being present, to protect some notion of pure experience, is by now nothing more than ruritanian perversity." So there.

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