At first glance, Covid-19 Quarantine measures have been disastrous for the arts. But with so many people streaming entertainment at home, there has been a sudden surge of streaming not only of movies, but also of stage performances. As theater companies begin to share their riches with the world, their recordings are beginning to remind audiences of a very unique experience.
In a stage performance, you are not only immersed in the story itself, you are also immersed in the creation of the story. You sense all the moving parts – you can see each violinist in the orchestra twitch their sore shoulders as they ready their bows; you can smell the smoke from the pyrotechnics, you can sense the energy between actors as they deftly steer the performance past a forgotten line or missed cue. And likewise, you are affecting the performance itself. Your recording cellphone can throw off the energy of the actors on stage, and your laughter can revitalize them. It is the most holistic type of storytelling, because it is involves all your senses. And it is the most communal kind of storytelling, because you are gathered together with the storytellers, influencing each other in the telling. In a word, it is a thoroughly human experience.
For years, seeing “The Phantom of the Opera” has been on my bucket list. When I entered the convent, I knew that was a dream I was being asked to hand over to Jesus in exchange for an even greater dream. So I did. But during the quarantine, Prince Albert Hall decided to make their recorded 25th Anniversary Phantom performance available for free streaming for 24 hours. On a night that I could choose between a movie and a stage, I chose the stage. According to the Evening Standard, me and 11 million other people. And we were NOT disappointed.
Courtesy of The Really Useful Group Ltd
Apart from the fact that this particular performance is so brilliant that it deserves its own article, streaming a live stage performance (pre-recorded, of course) allows audience members a glimpse into this incredibly raw art form, but it also allows us to enter in to a gathering. When I watched the Phantom on YouTube, I was seeing how the cast was interacting with the audience, how they used the audience’s space, and how the people in the audience were reacting to them. I could also read the reactions of people watching along with me online. I felt more connected to other people. It was no longer just me and my screen… it was us, all of us, in this story.
This is a unique type of connection a movie cannot capture, and one that quarantining has helped people to truly value and appreciate – what it means to watch something in a holistic and experiential way with others, and to value the experiences that others are having around us to the same story we are watching. It forms a community around an art form, and we get to be a part of that.
When the play “The Last Days: The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ” streamed during Holy Week, it was amazing to see how this performance drew in its live audience, as well as how it formed an instant community among the streamers! When the crew faced technical difficulties making the streaming available, people waited and encouraged each other in the chat section for a full ¾ of an hour until the show could finally begin. And when it did, it felt like we were watching with our own kind of live audience, because we were. In a time where so many of us feel overwhelmed, trapped, isolated or alone, watching a pre-recorded live stage performance reminded us of our connection, of our humanity.
© 2020, "The Last Days" is produced by the G.K. Chesterton Theatre Co. a charitable non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation. All rights reserved.
As more and more plays, ballets, operas and musicals begin to offer streaming options during quarantine, audiences are re-discovering two very important things about themselves. They are discovering that they can bring their whole person into viewing a performance – all their senses, even their reactions – in a way that makes them uniquely present. And they are discovering that even in simply watching a performance, community can be built. These are two things that we are all learning not to take for granted anymore with social distancing and stay-at-home measures. And a deeper appreciation for the physical presence and the beauty of interactive community may well lead to a surge in appreciation for live stage performances when they become possible again.
I hope it does. I hope we learn to cherish these aspects of the art of live stage performances for the way they help us open up and connect to one another. And I hope people will continue to be creative in sharing beauty and community for many years to come.
If you’re interested in streaming or renting a recorded live stage performance but aren’t sure where to begin, here are a few good places to start:
- “The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall”, starring Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Boggess, Hadley Fraser. Available on YouTube to buy or rent, and on DVD.
- The Stratford Festival is making their upcoming plays (including Shakespeare’s “King Lear”) available for streaming on Youtube.
- The Royal Opera House is making multiple ballets available for streaming on Youtube