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Digital Theatre Producing: Provocations & Affirmations


After the amazing response to on hope: a digital song cycle, I spent some time reflecting on what sort of work MPTheatricals should be making and supporting. To help that thinking, I launched a survey to understand what people want to see to help make those decisions and my thinking around producing standards during this time.

We are living in unprecedented times. A time where, I find, we are strangely more connected through the lights and signals that soar around us. The adjustment has been a challenge for us all. We’ve adjusted to new ways of communicating, ones that have relied on technologies and the occasional glitch. Normality became a distant memory and what we know to be has radically changed.

I’ve been amazed at the amazing way people have kept the theatre flame burning. The move to online has embraced totally new ways of working and has created some beautiful moments I’ll remember forever. Seeing a live duet take place at SIGNALONLINE 5. Seeing hundreds of performers and creatives come together to fundraise and pay tribute in beautiful evenings of musical theatre. Being a part of conversation and audiences in the moment- truly spectacular.

Before we announce our next steps and exciting plans for the months ahead, I want to share a series of statements and provocations that we’ll be working towards when creating, producing and supporting work. I’ve divided these into three sections: Space, Access and Monetisation.

I wish to acknowledge and affirm a statement immediately. This is a time where we have to ensure we are amplifying & supporting the voices and movements that are fighting for basic humanitarian rights. We must respond: it is our human duty. We will never be silent. We refuse to promote any values that are not progressive and forward thinking. We acknowledge the privilege we have as a company and our duty to educate ourselves, support these voices and causes and will ALWAYS do so.

SPACE:

CURATION IS KEY. Creating balanced spaces of opportunity that serve into a curated, high quality. Working with curators who bring their passion and life experience into creating spaces for all. On hope proved that creating curated spaces and supported communities giving everyone a voice leads to beautiful things.

Content has to be curated with a purpose. Asking ourselves why we are making this now and where we’d like to go with the work from there. It’s vital we don’t just recycle content. We must engage in newer ways of working.

Our work sits in an intersection of theatre and film- embrace it. we cannot make true theatre or true film. We live in an intersection that we must explore to its fullest by experimenting with technologies and ways of storytelling. Play with liveness. Play with design. Play! In addition to this, we need to consider how we support all theatre crafts within this new way of working.

No COVID-19. For now, let’s escape or explore emotion away from Mrs. Rona’s gaze. We will eventually heal, but for now, we make work that is goes beyond. Light and frothy to deep and dark.

ACCESS:

Cultivate a shared community in the moment. Theatre is made theatre by the presence of people and the rich communities that emerge within them. Conversation needs to be encouraged and spaces need to be made to meet.

Our work is inclusive. Amplify all voices. Especially the voices of queer people & the voices of people of colour. Share processes. Learn.

Our work is open to all. Offline, online- work needs to reach all, especially those who might otherwise experience barriers to access, including due to technical knowledge Providing lyric/script books and captioning where possible. Works should be simple and easy to connect to and be a part of.

MONETISATION:

Donate/Tickets/Support- the language needs shifting. It’s really important we place value on artists making work. Whilst taking opportunities or self-initiative for exposure is part of the artists journey, making and crafting something takes time that should be rewarded. Quality comes from investment in the work and self. If too much art is made free, we dangerously risk creating a perception that sees art as merely a commodity or something for fun. There’s the complex territory of art as a product: I like to imagine that if we connect and engage with something, we’d want to pay for it. Here are three specific thoughts reflecting on some of the feedback:

  • A balance of free to paid content is needed. We’d market a real world show with preview videos etc. Ensure any project includes a balance and is part of a curated and considered journey.

  • Ensure complete transparency in all areas, especially money. There are no guidelines as of yet to support best practice when streaming, but it is crucial that the work of artists and team members is paid fairly. We need transparent communication to ensure we do things right and continue to support our cultural economy and the makers of work. This expands to audiences: ensure they know what they are paying for and where it’s going. Self-greed is not a look we can be wearing right now: we’re all in the same boat and need to ensure we’re all supported.

  • Ensuring that payment structures do not make works inaccessible: all paid performances will adopt a Pay What You Can language with recommended benchmarks. This is a system that requires some experimentation. Works will be free to watch, we encourage those who can give to do so. It’s a huge acknowledgment to the work, the messages and the causes we are supporting.

  • The future is difficult: we don’t know when this will end. Even when a lockdown is lifted, fear will remain. This will linger for a while and it’s vital to ensure work is still accessible to all as we recover.

And finally, ensure everyone is respected and cared for: not only is the future difficult, the now is as well. People’s lives can change daily. We have a duty to respect people may not want to make work and need spaces that support them. As a producer/maker, I’ll ensure that space is given and hope to be there when things are tough, you need to vent or just chat over a virtual cocktail. (We’ll be sharing our company’s wellbeing, health and support guide which is currently being constructed.)

I welcome any thoughts, additions and reflections to this from anyone who’s interested! The reason for sharing this article came from a sense of needing to affirm my vision forward. I want to share that thinking and ethos to be as transparent as possible. We’ll continue to share our thinking, provocations around our current time & most importantly, engage with you to keep making the things you want to see.

Our future feels strange, uncertain and unpredictable. For now, we can control what we can and continue to be the best we can be in both life and work.

Matt Powell – Artistic Director (MPTheatricals) - info@mptheatricals.co.uk

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