We’re edging ever closer to the long awaited date of 17 May, and things are looking up for theatre. But before we can return to full capacity auditoriums, it seems like we’re going to have some hybrid productions first. And I’m a big fan.
Hybrid productions can take many forms. They can be recordings of shows – with half live audiences, half online ones. They can be shows rehearsed online but performed in person at the final hour. They can even be shows recorded in empty auditoriums – without social distancing but also without real audiences. It seems to me that compromise is one of the best forms of innovation.
And theatre is all about innovation. There’s nothing better than pushing a cast and crew out of their comfort zones. So now that we have a little bit more flexibility and a lot more options, it is theatre’s time to shine. No need to wait for a full re-opening of the industry -– the time to act is now.
I’m taking part in a hybrid show myself. We’re only using Zoom right up until the tech rehearsal, and then we’re forming a new Covid bubble in late May – each of us taking several LFT tests beforehand. We get a crazy four days in a theatre, and then we have to record the performance. What’s interesting is that the problems we’re facing are also our best advantages. We don’t have a great capacity to block the show before in-person rehearsals begin. But that means our production will hopefully have a workshop-type, somewhat-devised atmosphere. We want it to be as fresh and as new-feeling as possible. What’s more, we don’t have any capacity for an audience. But that means our production will hopefully have the advantages of a tech manager, who can edit the performance with special effects and smooth transitions.
Excitement is already bubbling. It’s difficult to stay safe while also being adventurous. But with the new rule of six and lockdown restrictions slowly lifting, it doesn’t have to be only professional companies who are allowed to rehearse again. There are ways – safe and legal ways I might point out – that we can begin to bring back theatre to the town halls and promenade spaces.
Local theatre, as I previously wrote about, has dominated the age of lockdown. It’s time for us to maintain that flame and enter the world of semi-live theatre. I even wonder if hybrid productions will outlive the pandemic. After all, if we add to our long-term theatrical repertoire instead of progressing in a purely linear fashion, theatre can adapt to overcome any situation that may arise in the future.
I once complained about the funereal feeling of Zoom productions that were coming my way. If I’m honest, I’m still slightly bored of them. But perhaps I’ve been taking Zoom performances for advantage. After all, the normal world of theatre, the world where theatre is only available via an excessively expensive ticket and an evening in the West End, lacks the accessibility that Zoom performances boast.
Hybrid is the way forward. We can learn from the pandemic, yet still push onwards. And, most importantly, we can continue to be innovative.