When the pandemic hit, theatres closed and people turned to TV and Film for a source of entertainment. With the introduction of online theatrical experience through the ‘National Theatre at Home’ site and other small theatres having online premieres instead of live productions, the future of live theatre is in question. Attempting to rectify this, Pitlochry Festival Theatre and the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh seek to redefine theatrical space, while staying Covid-safe.
In collaboration with Naked Productions, these theatres have created ‘Sound Stage,’ which endeavours to recreate a live, immersive theatrical experience online using audio theatre. The first season of ‘Sound Stage’ will include eight new British theatre pieces written by experienced playwrights from the National Theatre, the BBC and the Edinburgh Fringe. Some of the plays are autobiographical, and they
all seek to explore British culture and both highbrow and lowbrow issues. For example, the first play to be premiered explores what affects familial relationships. The audio productions are all created from the comfort of the theatre-makers’ own homes for the digital performance space.
Elizabeth Newman, artistic director of Pitlochry Festival Theatre, noted that audio drama and online premieres alone “did not solve the problem of how much audiences and the theatre industry as a whole were missing the experience of going to the theatre itself… and so Sound Stage was born.”
Tickets for Sound Stage can be purchased before the event, as is necessary for regular live theatre, and audiences will watch the play in real-time. Prior to the premiere, the audience will ‘enter’ the theatre and be ‘ushered’ to their seats. During the interval, audience members will have the opportunity to virtually meet each other. After the production ends, there will be a chance for a post-show discussion. This salvages the elements of watching theatre that has not yet been replicated online and offers lonely people during lockdown the opportunity to interact with others and connect through a performance. Pitlochry Festival Theatre and the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh intend to put these eight plays on for a live audience when it is possible. It will be interesting to compare this online experience with the in-person experience should these productions be allowed to live under Covid-19 regulations.
This is an innovative, intuitive and hopefully impactful use of theatre makers’ time in the midst of a pandemic which has caused a threat to numerous careers in the arts, and limited creativity. The support of such a feat will not only help to redefine theatre space as we know it, but also provide a cheaper and Covid-safe option for theatre makers to continue to develop art. Should this be successful, Pitlochry Festival Theatre and the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh could be responsible for a massive shift in the industry. This is not something that theatre-lovers should miss out on.
Tickets are on sale from February 14th for the first production’s virtual theatre experience, Mark Ravenhill’s ‘Angela’ on 26th March. It is an experience not to be missed.
Illustration by Samantha Fulton