Digital Theatre launches Gulf Stage

Gulf Stage, an innovative new project broadcasting Arabic theatre online for free, launched on Monday.

The result of a unique collaboration between The British Council and Digital Theatre, where each of the six plays comes from a different Gulf country. Subtitled into English, they can be found online via a dedicated section of the Digital Theatre website.

Digital Theatre launched in 2009, to “showcase the best of British theatre online,” say its founders Robert Delamere and Tom Shaw. Having already worked with luminaries such as the RSC, the Young Vic and the Royal Court Theatre, Gulf Stage provides an “exciting international addition” to the project.

Filmed at last year’s Gulf Co-operation Countries (GCC) Youth Theatre Festival in Doha, Gulf Stage includes the festival’s two winning plays.

The Nursery from Kuwait is a tragi-comic drama about a young man discovering someone wants to kill him, while he other winner, Me… You… the Human comes from Qatar and follows the thoughts and pains of one man. Other plays tackle issues of freedom and women’s rights, while The Dark Night draws inspiration from Shakespeare’s Othello and Arabian folk tales.

Plays provided by Digital Theatre are filmed with an audience present, using multiple angles and high definition cameras to make the live performance as authentic as possible. The range of productions they aim to provide is diverse: other content currently available includes the RSC’s The Comedy of Errors, the English Touring Theatre’s adaption of Far From the Madding Crowd, and The Container from the Young Vic. Following the National Theatre’s steps to stream live performances into cinemas across the world with NT Live, the Gulf Stage project highlights the next exciting step in the evolution of theatre.

An increasing number of companies are looking at online content as a way to interact with the younger generations, allowing modern drama productions to escape the confines of a specific place and time. A move to digital content creates a new platform for audiences to access theatre, both in the UK and internationally. It is now possible to enjoy highlights of international theatre without even having to leave the house. You no longer have to worry about performances being sold out; theatre is becoming interactive and on-demand, with digital productions often providing a better seat than you would necessarily have access to in an auditorium.

With the average cost of a West End show now over £35, digital content allows those with lower incomes to still gain access to the arts without being priced out. Initiatives such as Gulf Theatre provide the opportunity for anyone with an internet connection to experience theatre for free, whilst other pieces on the Digital Theatre site are significantly cheaper than the equivalent performance would be within a theatre.

The online realm also allows for a richer theatrical experience and greater means of engagement – a short documentary shows life behind the scenes of Gulf Stage and explores how the project made its way onto the web. Digital Theatre also has an iPhone app, providing free theatre listings across the UK and access to Digital Theatre trailers. Keen to make the project cross-platform, Gulf Stage also has a strong presence on both Twitter and Facebook. It is clear that Gulf Theatre is using technology to access a younger audience in a novel way.

Speaking at a recent event at the National Theatre, Ed Vaizey, Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, praised Digital Theatre for exploring the ways technology and modern developments can be adapted to provide increased access to the arts.

Whilst the future for the traditional arts world remains uncertain, Gulf Theatre acts as a positive and exciting sign of things to come.

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