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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best creativity magazine in the UK“, Terence Rodia, Director of YOU Management questions the future of live theatre in the age of popular musical movies.

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Terence Rodia on The Table Read Magazine

Written by Terence Rodia

YOU Management

From the days of Gene Kelly tapdancing on lampposts to Julie Andrews bellowing through the Austrian Alps; Musicals have been gracing our screens and gaining significant traction on the digital stage for many years.  

Even recent depictions have garnered widespread appeal with today’s modern digital viewer. In 2017, ‘The Greatest Showman,’ directed by Michael Gracey and starring Hugh Jackman as the legendary P.T. Barnum, is a prime example of the modern musical film phenomenon. Renowned as a global sensation, the movie grossed over $435 million worldwide and received critical acclaim for its dazzling musical numbers and visually stunning production design. Similarly, the recent adaptation of ‘Mean Girls’ from the Broadway stage to the silver screen has had its share of widespread attention, appealing to both fans of the original musical and newcomers alike.

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The success of musical films like The Greatest Showman and Mean Girls raises questions about the future of live theatre, particularly in the age of digital entertainment. While there is undoubtedly a unique magic to experiencing a live performance in a theatre, the convenience and accessibility of digital platforms have broadened the reach of musicals to a global audience.

What does this mean for live theatre?

While these box office hits are enticing potential audiences away from auditoriums , it is not all doom and gloom for live theatre. Following a 92% decrease in ticket sales in 2020 as reported by the Guardian, the industry has shown signs of recovery and in 2023 pantomime directors reported ticket sale increased by as much as 17%. 

It seems the spectacle of live theatre is still strong, but is there more that theatre can do to stay competitive in an increasingly digital world?

The digital appeal

To remain competitive and attract audiences, theatres must embrace digital innovation while preserving the unique appeal of live performances. Some notable productions have already started to integrate tech to enhance the theatrical experience and compete with the allure of digital entertainment, with one such example being the stage production of ‘Ghost’.

The show featured an elaborate video system, including six video projectors and motion-controlled video surfaces, seamlessly integrating LED screens and projections into the set design. This innovative use of technology not only captured the essence of the original film but also wowed audiences with its immersive visual effects.

Indeed, where technology has been integrated into modern stage productions, it has enabled theatre-makers to create breathtaking visuals and immersive storytelling experiences. From interactive projections to augmented reality, the possibilities are endless for theatres looking to push the boundaries of traditional performance art.

A show-stopping double act

With both mediums offering a unique experience, there is an opportunity for collaboration between film and theatre.

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Musical films have the power to introduce new generations and cinematic viewers to the world of musicals. With the increasing influence of screens on audiences, the popularity of musical movies can help promote theatre and inspire a new generation of theatre lovers. Likewise, musical films and films turned into musicals can only strengthen the film industry. Films such as Shrek which came out in 2001, have become a sensation for fans of the movies and with the release of the stage performance of ‘Shrek the Musical’ in 2008, reigniting passions for the film nearly seven years after its original release.

Collaborations between filmmakers and theatre professionals can offer exciting entertainment possibilities, combining the magic of cinema and live theatre to provide immersive experiences for audiences. By leveraging the unique strengths of both mediums, these collaborations bridge the gap between the two art forms, captivating viewers with innovative storytelling and visually stunning productions. The success of such collaborations can be seen in one-off TV events like Grease! Live in 2016, which drew in an impressive 12.81 million viewers in its final half-hour.

Whether through live broadcasts of theatrical performances in movie theatres or film adaptations of beloved stage musicals, these hybrid experiences entice audiences to explore the thrill of live performance and the cinematic spectacle of the big screen. With creative synergy and collaboration, filmmakers and theatre professionals have the power to craft unforgettable experiences.

Are curtains up on live performances?

There is no denying that film offers many advantages and the accessibility of home entertainment and while the theatre is steadily attracting audiences back to their seats following COVID-19, the theatre industry mustn’t become complacent.  By embracing new ways of enhancing performance through technology and working with other mediums such as film to build a shared ‘digital stage’ experience for the modern viewer, theatre can reap the benefits of innovation. By doing this, the theatre industry can navigate the digital age with confidence and continue to inspire and entertain audiences for generations to come.

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