Theatre of With contains some thoughts about 21st century theatre in the context of the current revolution. spawned by the internet and changes in the way we can communicate and organise ourselves. The ideas are connected with The Art of With, the essay produced by Charles Leadbetter for the Cornerhouse.
The big movements of that revolution which impact upon the arts and culture are:
- the convergence of content and technology, driving new creative experiences on digital platforms, opening up new creative experiences, new ways of generating creative content and accessing it
- the changes in how we communicate through social media, allowing us to collaborate, share and organise ourselves without organisations
- the ways in which we transact, operate and do business through systems enabled by digital technology
In the Art of With, Charles Leadbetter asks:
- What do the advent of the web, collaborative practice and open source ways of working mean for the arts and art organisations?
- How do artists, audiences and other stakeholders really get involved with programming and evaluating arts venues?
- What does it mean for curators, programmers and traditional structures of arts organisations?
Some of his questions and ideas resonate clearly within the world of theatre, in areas where theatres are broadly similar to other arts organisations, where theatre audiences are broadly similar to the audiences of arts centres for visual arts and cinema, and where theatre art has similarities with visual arts.
But the differences between theatre and visual arts are also enormous and some of the questions are hard to consider let alone answer in theatres.
Theatre as a genre, and non-commercial theatre as a business model, is the cultural species most threatened by the cultural, social and economic implications of the digital age. By its very nature, it is the least adaptive of the arts to the current opportunities in digital technology and social networking. Its model is ancient. It involves gathering people together in a place to participate in a performance where a drama in enacted. It needs a story, actors, and creative direction and setting, and it needs an audience, together, at the same time.
Drama, on the the other hand, which is produced for, on and with digital platforms, is already adapting through web drama.
So the Art of With challenges theatre in three main areas:
1. In its fundamental model of creating and producing theatre and in how it can combine and connect with people. How can theatre be collaborative and participative and also be great and engaging art?
2. In how it is open with audiences and communities in ways which involve opening up resources, personalising programmes and experiences as well as creative collaboration
3. In its economic sustainability. Subsidised theatre operates within a 20th century business model where the majority of the costs are tied to overheads, salaries and fees with little flexibility, and the costs of attracting income at the box office and from other sources are heavy. As other arts and creative industries are able to adapt to our new technology and develop new business models, will theatre be inevitably left behind?