In the past year, I have consumed large amounts of digital theatre. This week at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, I saw more than I did the entirety of last year. The rise in digital theatre popularity due to COVID-19 has uncovered and overcome challenges that were previously untouched. All theatre has some downsides, but these positives are what has kept theatre alive this year.
In all honesty, live theatre has not always been the most accessible art form. As a college student, I just do not have the extra money to pay for admission or to take off work to go to New York. Having family out of state has also made it difficult for my family to see the productions I have been part of. However, with digital theatre my family and I can watch many productions without damaging our bank accounts. No matter where they are, they can watch plays with just a few clicks. With “Zoom plays” in local theatre, all you need is the link and a bit of free time. As far as Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, they have become more accessible as well. With the addition of Hamilton to Disney Plus many people had access, including myself to something none of us would have the chance to see otherwise. Without that I most likely would have spent my entire career with only the soundtrack.
It is safe to say digital theatre is healthier. So many of my castmates would have given up theatre to avoid the risk exposure and spread of COVID-19. As an actor, I can remember one of my castmates being sick with a stomach bug one week, and by the next week there were multiple cast and crew members with the same symptoms. This is no problem for digital theatre. Most theatre companies have zoom meetings in place of face-to-face rehearsals. When someone is sick, they do not have contact with everyone at daily rehearsals, keeping more actors healthy.
Digital theatre has expanded the entire art form and become a factory for more content. As most functioning college theatre groups were off-campus, they had to learn technology skills to keep up with classes or attend rehearsals. These skills can be applied later on when we go back to “normal” theatre. Beginning to livestream plays from zoom has changed what theatre means. Though it has blurred the line between film and theatre, digital theatre has opened a new era of theatre that is bound to be taught about for years to come. The need for relatable content that is current and usable grew. Because of that, directors, actors, and playwrights rose to the occasion. Many directors have had trouble finding a play that is compatible with zoom. Other issues directors had were complications with royalties and companies making excessive rules over what you could do with the production. Frustrated and confused, directors wrote their own plays or had their students write for them. Again, being off-campus cuts off access to plays and theatre libraries. As a result of this, more playwrights produced more content and some actors became playwrights. My personal experience with playwriting started this year. I had never written for a play before. Just this year, I wrote four monologues. Some I wrote in the need of some form of therapy, others because the things happening around me inspired me. In the end, digital theatre has been very beneficial to audiences, actors, directors, and playwrights alike.
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Region 5 IJTA Coordinator