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Spotlight On: Digital Theatre

Posted on 18 July 2012 by Becky Brewis

Digital Theatre works with Britain’s leading theatre companies to capture live performances on screen. As tour budgets are increasingly cut, the aim is to give theatres the chance to extend their reach to global audiences, with partners including the Royal Court, the Young Vic and the RSC. Theatre directors love it (Stephen Sondheim was delighted by their film of last summer’s production of Into the Woods at Regents Park) and although there are other organisations filming theatre, Digital Theatre is the first to bring theatre into your living room, or – and this is where the Digital Theatre Plus part comes in – into the classroom. So what do they do exactly?

Fiona Lindsay, the Creative Producer of DT Plus, tells me how her experience working in the education department at the RSC has shaped her thinking about teaching theatre. “Without me realising it at the time, it really ingrained in me a sense of play – of how to play with plays – and of what works and does not work with a younger audience; what’s important to them and why it’s important.” The desire to share the step by step creative process of bringing a play alive is at the heart of DT Plus, and it was at the RSC that Lindsay met theatre director and Digital Theatre founder, Robert Delamere. When she heard his plans for the project she saw a chance to virtually recreate the kinds of exposé work they had done at the RSC, going behind the scenes and showing how theatre is made. “That is where the hunger is,” she says, “people are so hungry to know all that information”.

Digital Theatre Plus is, as the name suggests, Digital Theatre with extra bits, and the company is going from strength to strength. They are now in schools all over the world together with drama schools and universities, with different age groups using the resources in different ways. Schools welcome the chance to bring the West End into classrooms without the expense of getting a class there on a coach, while for university students, it is an opportunity to get behind the scenes – in a practical, vocational way – of the industry they are studying. Lindsay explains: “To be able to listen to Scott Graham from Frantic Assembly for example, talking about his process; to hear an actor saying, this is my reality; to watch a designer talking beautifully about his or her process – that’s really useful to them.” There is also a wealth of written content by theatre practitioners, and it is this emphasis on turning a younger audience on to theatre through practical insight that defines DT Plus. “The thing I really want to avoid is making people feel that it’s good for them. Of course it is – but you should never have to say that, to immerse someone in the experience and let them feel this for themselves is the most important thing.”

Lindsay admits herself that the ambition is a lofty one. It can be difficult to square your own ideas about teaching theatre and plays with restrictive, changeable school curricula, but DT Plus needs to stay useful in order to succeed. Lindsay notes she’s been around long enough to know that approaches go in cycles and that while she wants to work closely with exam boards she also wants to find a way of offering a true experience of theatre that won’t date, or become too attached to a particular way of thinking. Judging by the process so far the project is doing just this, reaching some far-flung places – among them a school in Ho Chi Minh City, the British School of the Netherlands and a university in Australia.

Partly it is the  perception that British theatre is a benchmark for quality that attracts education institutions to the site, but what is unusual about DT Plus is that it offers the very latest theatre – the most current production of Macbeth, say – so that its content is always informing learning. As DT Plus expands, the team hopes to provide lots of archive material as well, so as to provide a well-rounded experience. They are currently working with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and with the Shakespeare Schools Festival, putting together an archive of filmed workshops, and hope to start work with the British Library too.

The resource is in its early stages, but growing fast. As they continue to develop a wide range of supplementary material such as interviews and documentaries, there are lots of new features planned to make the educational package as complete and easy to use as possible, including being able to watch and study plays scene by scene, with select commentary from actors and directors on particular key scenes. What Lindsay doesn’t want to lose is the basic theatricality of the experience: “When you walk into a theatre, you get excited by the thrill of it – just walking into a foyer can be exciting. So I think, whatever educational value this has, it has to be, from the moment you get onto that site, an exciting place to be.” DT Plus is striving to democratise the whole experience of going to the theatre, without losing that very personal sense of anticipation. And she hopes that by next year individuals – for instance a young director looking for inspiration – will also be able to subscribe to the site, in the same way that they can currently access the main Digital Theatre site.

It is worth pointing out that the filmed production really are worth a watch. There is something very intimate about viewing a live production in your own home, and through multiple camera angles it is possible to get a point of view on film that you can’t get as a sitting theatre audience. While getting up close to a stage actor’s face can at times be a bit disconcerting, the films have clear artistic merit of their own. When I ask Lindsay what Digital Theatre brings to the productions in terms of their own style, she tells me that its co-founders Delemare and Tom Shaw both have theatrical backgrounds, “so they are not going in with a heavy hand, they are going in with a really light hand and an open mind and want to capture the show in the best possible way. We work really closely with the artistic director of the piece, and shape it together so that we are telling the true story.” They film a maximum of three shows and assemble the best of the three, making sure they capture the moments a live audience might not get, “so, we bring the close-up; that’s what we bring.” It strikes me that if the films deliver one sort of close-up, the educational features deliver another sort: close-ups from behind the scenes.

“I suppose it is about transportation,” Lindsay tells me. “Theatre is about transportation and I think to transport anyone anywhere properly you have to give it time. It’s very difficult to be transported in a nanosecond, so on this site we will show whole films. Our interviews and documentaries will be a substantial, good length. I don’t want to give anybody a short experience. Now, I wouldn’t expect anybody to come into the theatre and then to be stopped half way through watching and I think that by encouraging people to spend time immersing themselves in this way we can transport them into a really exciting wondrous world that is theatre.”

Have a browse of the Digital Theatre archives at http://www.digitaltheatre.com/production.

Image credit: Frantic Assembly’s Lovesong by Johann Persson

Becky Brewis

Becky Brewis

Becky Brewis is Commissioning Editor of AYT. She is a freelance writer and editor and has written for Huffington Post UK and IdeasTap and reviews theatre for Broadway World and One Stop Arts. Sub-editing includes IdeasTap, Nick Hern Books and fashion and art magazines Nowness and Wonderland. She has worked for theatres and arts organisations including the Finborough, the Pleasance, the Southbank Centre, Cecil Sharp House and the Barbican Centre.

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Want to Write? The best of the UK’s Literary Festivals

Posted on 05 March 2012 by Marése O'Sullivan

2012 marks a major year for literature all over the world. From Shakespeare to Dickens to the best of Ireland’s authors, literary festivals offer a jam-packed few days of writing, reading and guest speakers, as well as the opportunity to indulge in the delights of each city. A Younger Theatre has checked out some of the best literary festivals that the UK and Ireland have to offer over the coming months:

The World Shakespeare Festival will celebrate the Bard as part of the Cultural Olympiad. Celebrations will be particularly centred in London as crowds flood in for the 2012 Olympics, but the event will also be marked in cities such as Stratford-upon-Avon, Newcastle, Birmingham, Brighton and Edinburgh. Beginning on 23 April, Shakespeare’s birthday, and running until November, theatres all over the UK will have productions and exhibitions on offer.

The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon – along with staging many plays – will host an exhibition, ‘The Stories of Shakespeare’, in association with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. There will also be many other events, such as the Swan Theatre’s Creative Dialogues (Translating and Transposing Shakespeare, Reinterpreting and Reimagining Shakespeare, and Shakespeare and the Contemporary Artist). Stratford-upon-Avon will also have its own Literary Festival from 22-28 April.

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London will host all of the playwright’s 37 plays on stage in Globe to Globe: “a multi-lingual Shakespeare project”, from 23 April to 9 June. “Each [play will be performed] in a different language [and] each by a different company from around the world”, says the website. The official opening will take place on the 21-22 April. In September, the theatre will also feature Stephen Fry’s first performance on stage in 17 years, as Malvolio in Twelfth Night.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, from 10 August to 2 September, the Edinburgh International Festival will stage a Polish production with English subtitles entitled 2008: Macbeth, while Wales’s National Theatre will present Coriolanius in August.

The Dickens 2012 Festival will celebrate the two hundredth birthday of renowned Victorian author Charles Dickens (February 7) with myriad events over the course of the year. The main attraction is the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street, “the author’s only surviving London house”, but ensure you visit before 9 April when the museum will close for a refurbishment. It is also holding a special Flash Fiction Workshop for 16-24-year-olds on 11 March. Young Writer-in-Residence Femi Martin will run this workshop as well as a number of others. The event is free but places are limited. The Museum will also play host to If These Walls Could Speak… on 3 April, honouring the new work of upcoming English writers over wine and sherry (drinks that Dickens himself was apparently partial to). You can also follow in Dickens’s footsteps on the Museum’s ‘Dickensian London Walk’ until 4 April for £10, prior booking essential (Call 0207 405 2127 or email).

The V&A Museum of Childhood is collaborating with the English Association and the Dickens Fellowship to present the Dickens and Childhood Conference on 18 June. Held at the V&A, student attenders can look forward to a £25 concession rate, lectures from Dickens specialists and talks from children’s authors. The Museum of London is also getting involved: it is running  an exhibition called Dickens and London until 10 June, including “manuscripts of some of his most famous novels, his writing desk and chair, artefacts, paintings and audiovisual effects to create an immersive and exciting journey through Dickens’s imagination”.

Known as the ‘Literary Capital of Ireland’ and the home of celebrated writers John B. Keane, Bryan MacMahon, Brendan Kennelly, Gabriel Fitzmaurice, Maurice Walsh, Robert Leslie Boland, George Fitzmaurice and Seámus Wilmot, the town of Listowel, Co. Kerry, will host the forty-first Listowel Writers’ Week. The event will take place from 30 May to 3 June. There are 14 three-day Literary Workshops on offer, covering genres from creative writing to poetry to screenwriting to journalism to memoir. There are only 15 places per workshop, each costing €175. The festival will also have readings from several internationally acclaimed authors, including Belinda McKeon. A weekly ticket costs €100, or €180 for two, and concession tickets are available for students. You can make bookings by calling +353 682 1074.

Galway City in Ireland is well known for its arts, especially literature. The twenty-seventh Cúirt International Festival of Literature, on 24-29 April, will showcase some of the best writing talent to come from the island. The annual Cúirt/Over the Edge Showcase on 25 April is highly regarded and will feature the fiction and poetry winners of the Cúirt New Writing Prize 2012. More events will be announced on the website shortly so make sure to have a glance at its Twitter or like its Facebook page.

Cambridge Wordfest (Spring 2012) is celebrating its 10-year anniversary in style. Held from 13-15 April at various venues throughout the city, Festival Director Cathy Moore says to “expect a three-day party bursting with everything from big-name authors to debut writers, [to] personal inspirations [and] global themes”. They will be welcoming top-notch writers from all over the UK, including Julian Clary, Michael Portillo, Grace Dent, Charley Boorman, Ian Rankin, Michael Rosen, Cressida Cowell and Andy Stanton. The festival will also have a wide range of literary events during the weekend: Writing Creative Non-Fiction, Ghost Writing Masterclass, A Room of One’s Own Workshop and Walking Tour, Poetry Workshops, Getting Published Today Masterclass and Crime Writing Workshops are just some of the delights to choose from. The box office is now open for bookings: have a look at thewebsite or call 01223 300 085.

The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival at Christ Church, Oxford, has one of the most spectacular backdrops of any festival. From 24 March to 1 April, the festival will display a wealth of creative knowledge and entertainment, and more than 80 events that will take place. The guest speakers include Peter Carey, Vikram Seth, William Boyd, Robert Harris, Anthony Horowitz, P.D. James and Ian Rankin. Check out the website for more information, as well as its Facebook page and Twitter. Call the box office on 0870 343 1001.

The Bath Literature Festival will be held from 2-11 March. This year’s festival has a smashing line-up of authors and events, from Writers’ Surgery workshops for anyone suffering from writer’s block, to Britain’s only poetry pub crawl, to a talk with The Times columnist David Aaronovitch. A fun few days in one of the most beautiful English cities, this festival is certainly not one to be missed. You can follow it on Twitter for the latest updates.

This is only a selection of the fantastic festivals and events that are going on throughout the country this year. If you’re a prospective or established author, or just a lover of words, soaking up the rich literary atmosphere will do your writing the world of good!

Image credit: Dickens 2012 Festival.

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