Shaftesbury Arts Centre is launching its live streaming events at the end of this month. Many smaller venues across the country have started screening theatre or pop concert performances from major concert halls of theatres. Richard Lloyd tells Alfred why his team have backed ballet, rather than boy bands, with the new service.
“What we are after is increasing the range of the arts that we can provide at the Arts Centre. We have a lovely little auditorium, a beautiful little stage, but it’s really not suitable for ballet or opera where you need a big cast or a lot of area to move about in,” explained Richard Lloyd of Shaftesbury Arts Centre. This project is, effectively, his baby. He is heading up a team of three that has been researching the potential for live events sent from venues across the country.
The Arts Centre team has noted the success of live streaming at Motcombe Memorial Hall, where their programme has included Oscar Wilde, opera and a Take That concert, since they began beaming in productions in February last year. “Unfortunately Motcombe has a very small capacity of 100,” said Richard. “But their ballets are always well attended. It’s more popular than people perhaps normally think. I went to see a performance of The Nutcracker at Motcombe last year. I was not a big ballet fan. Having seen it, I have become it. You get marvellous close-ups of the performers and a real feel for the performance all through,” he add.
Richard believes there is a demand for ballet in Shaftesbury. “A lot of people have said, ‘You are doing ballet, that’s fantastic. We can’t see that. Let’s have more of that’.” Richard says many residents have told him they would like opera, too. “I think it will be a popular thing.”
More mainstream choices might be added in the future. “The wider the range of things, the better. For the moment we are concentrating on ballet simply because we know it is something that we cannot normally do. If a pop group comes along, we will certainly try to book it. One of our difficulties is that the Arts Centre auditorium is widely used already and there are few spare slots. We have to try and fit in times when it is not already being in use,” he explained.
The businesses that provide the streaming events do require commitment from venues like the Arts Centre and that has introduced an additional challenge to booking ballet and other events. “The season we’re having now is the Bolshoi and we’re being asked to show at least six of their productions, from November through until April next year. Luckily the live performances are on a Sunday, which is the one evening when the Arts Centre auditorium is not regularly in use, so we can fit those in. Trying to find spare capacity has been a challenge. The National Theatre requires us to take twelve productions a year but we have to have all twelve available and we just can’t do that. I’d love to start showing drama as well,” Richard said.
He has booked the Arts Centre’s streaming shows through a different distributor to Motcombe. “We’ve done this deliberately, so we don’t clash with them. We’d very much like to work together with them and we have interchanged our programme to make sure we don’t conflict,” said Richard.
The performances that will be screened at Bell Street will be a mixture of live shows and events recorded as live. They won’t be available on television or YouTube. “Live streaming isn’t available to everybody on the computer. We’ve also got really good sound quality and excellent projection and I think you get a completely different experience when you see something with an audience on quite a big screen compared to watching on your laptop in your own room,” he said.
The new equipment has been so installed following a grant from the Town Council. “It was £4,000 and we had £2,000 from Tesco too. It gave us a good lead-in to start purchasing new sound equipment and other facilities that we needed,” said Richard. “We’ve got brand new 5-to-1 sound,” added Richard. I had no idea what he meant, but he says it sounds good. “You’ve got five speakers arranged around the auditorium, so you have all-surround sound. The speakers are of very good quality.”
Richard says the audio experience is remarkable. “It’s a good, clean sound and very deep. I saw a production of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ that we put on a few months ago using the new equipment. It was really something to experience.”
As part of this technological upgrade, the Arts Centre has installed a Freesat system so they will be able to show publicly broadcast events such as royal weddings or state occasions on a big screen. “People might like to come together to watch those things together,” Richard said.
He feels that the ticket prices for the special streaming events are highly affordable. “We will be charging something like £15 a seat. If you’re off to see a live performance of an opera in London, you’re talking way above that figure plus the cost of travel there and back. The streaming provider recommends a certain minimum price which we have to stick to. Our terms are more or less 50-50. However many seats we sell, half of that has to go to the distributor. I think it’s fair play. I don’t regard £15 to see an excellent production as expensive.”
The Arts Centre’s first streaming show is a production of Dracula which will be beamed in from the Northern Ballet at 7pm on Halloween. “One of the things we’re going to suggest is that people turn up in fancy dress, if they want to. It’s not compulsory. There will be a wonderful prize for the best-dressed person,” said Richard, who is hoping that this trial will become permanent. “I’m convinced it’s going to be successful.”
The audience will need to be punctual for the start of the performance and will have to be back from the loo promptly for the second half, too. That’s because the event will be broadcast to venues across the UK and will start on time, rather like a television programme. “That’s particularly important in the interval. If you get in late you miss the second half,” he warned.
You can find out more about the streaming on the Shaftesbury Arts Centre website. “I think going to see live streaming gives you the opportunity to see things up close that you cannot get from a live performance because you are further away from the stage. In many ways, it’s a preferable situation to be in,” Richard said.