Not far from where I live is the Dundee Repertory Theatre, known locally as simply the Rep. The programme is a mixture of classic plays, contemporary works and local interest productions that appeal largely to a Scottish audience.
There was a time when I’d go there with my theatre buddy to see just about everything in the programme, but that hasn’t been possible for some time. Recently, however, the theatre has started the Rep Studios streaming service.
The first play to be streamed, Smile, is one of those local interest productions, about the football manager Jim McLean.
The tickets sold by Rep Studios are all timed like stage shows, usually for 2pm and 7pm, and that led me to think I’d be seeing a live performance transmitted from the theatre. Instead, the show is pre-recorded. I know this because I logged in early, expecting to see a countdown clock, yet it started straight away.
I’d waited until the last few days of its run because while I’d like the service to succeed, sport is not an area of interest to me. In fact, I didn’t mention it to my theatre buddy either as I knew she would feel the same. Ultimately, I’m glad I watched it, although I didn’t find it outstanding and I probably wouldn’t seek out a re-run.
The first time I encountered a streaming theatre production was not at home, but in a cinema, maybe seven or eight years ago. This was a National Theatre production – probably Shakespeare – and it was broadcast live.
Yet I felt a distinct vibe that they didn’t much like doing it this way. For a start, they could charge twice as much for an in-person performance, and the audience would have the draw of seeing Benedict Cumberbatch or Daniel Radcliffe live on stage.
The economics of this likely tell a different story. Cinemagoers were charged perhaps half as much as the theatre audience, with the trade-off that more than twice as many people could potentially see the play without any more performances being staged. I imagine the actors received extra pay for the broadcasts, although such transactions are typically kept confidential.
I’m going to keep an eye on how Rep Streaming emerges and evolves, and I look forward to the day I can next to my theatre buddy again.