Theatre has existed, in one form or another, since the origins of man, and while there have been some changes to it since cavemen began reenacting stories of the hunt, it has remained relatively the same.
It might be because of this long history of the form that virtual theatre -- that is, performing online, often from one's home, for an audience watching from theirs -- has been such a startling upset (to put it bluntly) to the tried-and-true way we used to (and once again will) take in theatre. Is it just going to be a way to do plays in a more distanced approach?
All of this begs the question: Can virtual theatre give people something new? Is there a niche for virtual theatre that either live theatre cannot do, or do as well?
I'd like to put forth the five following possibilities for virtual theatre's place in the future of the industry:
1. New works -- There are so many playwrights out there who have written scripts worth hearing. It's rare for a theatre company to take a financial risk on a work, no matter how good it is, without some sort of name recognition. Virtual theatre, however, can provide a possible launchpad for these new talents, since online productions can often be produced on a more affordable budget; there's no added costs for lighting, microphones, cost of renting/heating/cooling the playhouse itself, etc. Additionally, the format allows the play to extend beyond the community of the theatre company itself, getting in front of more eyes than ever before. Jakespeare VTC is one such company always soliciting new works for future productions.
2. Table reads -- Table reads can take unknown or familiar plays and show them in a new light, as well as form an unlikely bond with audiences. By turning a performance into a casual, no-frills reading, it allows more focus paid to the script, and by extension, the actors' performances. Likewise, thanks to the interactive nature of video streaming platforms, a company could include talkbacks from the audience to the cast, creating a personal touch many think does not exist in the virtual format.
3. "Neo" radio plays -- With sites like YouTube allowing anyone with an Internet connection to broadcast a live or pre-recorded show, radio plays are another route virtual companies can take, but with an added twist: visuals. Actors can be seen performing the play, like in traditional radio plays, or just their voice can be heard, accompanied by sound effects and still or video images too! This "new" take can be a whole new way to not only hear, but see, a radio play. See our spin on radio plays for free on our YouTube channel!
4. Scaled-down productions -- There are some plays that, no matter how intimate the theatre is that you watch it, still feel too small for a stage. With virtual theatre, however, the tighter focus on actors within a "black box" setting can give such productions a new life. Take, for example, plays where there's not a lot of action or spectacle -- some of the Shakespeare histories through Waiting for Godot and even up to more modern works like God of Carnage -- and virtual theatre zooms in on the performance itself rather than distracting audiences (and actors) with unnecessary moving around a decorated stage just to use the space.
5. Plays written for the format -- This may seem like the most obvious use of virtual theatre, producing plays specifically written to be performed online. The list of choices is small, but growing daily, as more people are penning scripts to fit this format. It's likely you have seen or will soon find an advertisement for Marc Palmieri's Waiting for the Host, one of the first major plays written with Zoom in mind, but there is certainly a lot of fertile ground for playwrights to sow.