During the first lockdown The National Theatre brought their productions to our homes for free, making theatre accessible in a way it has never been before.
As someone who has never found theatre truly accessible but always been a big lover of it this was hugely exciting. Growing up outside of London the ability to go to the theatre always came only from going on school trips, waiting for shows to tour near me or watching dodgy bootleg versions on YouTube in my bedroom. With sometimes extortionate ticket prices, plus the added fees of having to travel into London it was sometimes hard to justify splashing out from my minimum wage weekend job salary.
Every time I did go to the theatre however I felt an explosion of culture that I always wanted more of. Live theatre has an unmatched explosion of culture that leaves you replaying moments in your head for days or weeks and can change your perspective on elements of your own life. There is nothing quite like the buzz after watching a live show.
However, in March, with galleries, theatres and venues forced to close with little support, these institutions had to come up with new ways to both sustain themselves financially and maintain public interest to ensure post-lockdown return. The art world was given a newfound accessibility.
It led to a never-before-seen explosion of culture online. New York’s Museum of Modern Art was offering free courses to learn about their collections, artists were doing livestream concerts from their living rooms and theatres were putting their shows online so that could be viewed for free or with a small donation that could be as little as £4.
The National Theatre hosted weekly livestreams of previous plays for free on their YouTube channel, creating a sense of community within this section of the internet and the feeling of being at a theatre amongst hundreds of people all sharing the same viewing experience at the same time.
A couple of times, I arranged viewings with friends during which we all paid a donation to watch a play and would set up a zoom alongside it to recreate the feeling of going to watch these performances together. I was able to watch amazing performances of the National Theatre’s Frankenstein, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag and Bristol Old Vic’s Grinning Man all from the comfort of my own home in good quality and without having to splash out from my student loan.
This mode of sharing allowed people like me who love theatre access to plays they may have missed live and to find new ones. It also allowed people who could never afford the theatre price tickets to immerse themselves in the rich culture that is British theatre.
It was a game changer in the enrichment and accessibility of theatre and I hope to see it progress as another way to support the reopening of theatres across the country and allow people everywhere to experience theatre at home.
A current, comprehensive list of online theatre resources: https://www.standard.co.uk/culture/theatre/how-to-watch-stream-theatre-dance-comedy-opera-online-a4396631.html