Private Viewing: Do theatre trailers destroy the magic of a live performance?

Sydney Dance Company performing at Snape Maltings recently. Stunning images are vital in selling tic

Sydney Dance Company performing at Snape Maltings recently. Stunning images are vital in selling tickets for arts events. - Credit: Archant

Are trailers really ruining theatre? Arts editor Andrew Clarke says we should embrace technology

Eastern Angles' Ragnarok, stunning theatrical photography give audiences a hint about the treats in

Eastern Angles' Ragnarok, stunning theatrical photography give audiences a hint about the treats in store. Photo: Mike Kwasniak - Credit: Archant

As a writer, it pains me to say it, but sometimes a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. There is something visceral and immediate about an image and that’s why images are perfect for selling things – something like tickets to arts events.

A strong image can immediately create a sense of occasion, can offer up a hint of spectacle, the drawing power of all-star casting or the beauty of the production design.

Words are great at transmitting ideas but a powerful image is perfect if you want to trigger an emotional reaction. If you want to stop a potential audience in its tracks and get them to book for an event straight away then an arresting image is the way to do it.

This is nothing new. Poster design has been an art form in itself for more than 150 years. Leading artists from Toulouse-Lactrec to Picasso to Edward Bawden, John Piper and Edward Ardizonne have all created startling theatrical or film posters in their time.


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So, if a still image can be that powerful then it stands to reason that moving images can be far more effective. They can offer audiences a window onto the performance itself.

Walk into any theatre, arts centre or dance house these days and you will see a number of widescreen televisions offering up a selection of previews for forthcoming shows. Dramatic lighting, fabulous costumes along with highlights from the performances are designed to tempt us to buy our tickets now, to invest in the show and the future of the theatre.

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But, there are rumblings that perhaps modern technology is stealing the magic away from theatre. There are some commentators suggesting that there are too many trailers, too many behind-the-scenes documentaries, too many people trying to capture and preserve a live experience which by its nature should be fleeting and ephemeral.

I do understand where they are coming from. There is something special about walking into a theatre and witnessing a live performance without a lot of baggage or expectation attached, but sadly times have changed. The world has moved on and the nature of theatre has changed.

Today people are a lot more curious – and a lot more knowledgeable – about the way the entertainment industry works. We like to see making-of documentaries. We relish the opportunity to take a peak backstage. The National Theatre’s War Horse DVD is a fabulous look at how this award-winning show came into being – taking the viewer from the first planning meetings, through the experimental puppetry sessions to the final rehearsals.

The internet and the world of electronic media has created a means to deliver extra content to a devoted arts audience who want a way to delve deeper into a rich cultural world.

If truth be told, I think if the technology existed in the past to accurately capture the landmark performances of Sir Henry Irving or Ellen Terry or the critically acclaimed Shakespeare seasons by Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Paul Schofield or Richard Burton then I think we would already have a stunning theatrical archive.

You can see some attempts to capture stage classics in silent shorts and early filmed productions but they all lost something in the transfer from stage to screen. Usually it is the lack of interaction with the audience and the rather mannered acting style of the day. Dance fares better but again there are precious few performances which have been committed to film for posterity.

Today, not only does the technology exist to allow us to capture stage performances in a realistic fashion but acting styles are now much more naturalistic and don’t jar in the same way as theatrical performances did in the early part of the last century.

NT Live broadcasts in cinemas and the RSC’s DVD recordings of David Tennant’s Hamlet and Ian McKellan’s King Lear reveal spell-binding performances which look just as at home on screen as they did on stage.

Nothing compares to watching theatre live but we live in a time-starved society, so it is good that there are opportunities to see good art, theatre and dance when we have the opportunity to access it. It also gives a future life to performances that would otherwise disappear.

Also, despite the government assuring us that prosperity is on its way back, not many of us are seeing any evidence of that in our pay packets, and trailers help keep theatre, dance and the arts in the forefront of our minds. We should book those tickets.

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