Streaming Stories - how are you putting your work online and why does it matter? No. 1

Streaming Stories - how are you putting your work online and why does it matter? No. 1

May 19, 2020
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It may be hard to remember now, but for four weeks at the end of last summer, people were desperate to be sat in a crowded room. Queueing up (however close together they fancied) from 5 in the morning, it seemed like all of London wanted to breathe in each other’s germs just to watch Phoebe Waller-Bridge perform Fleabag at the Wyndham’s Theatre.

 

Based on the amount of time I spent in an online queue for tickets without ever seeing the show, it seems like a reasonably limited number of the people who wanted to watch Fleabag live got to. So, Soho Theatre’s decision to release the show as part of their Soho Theatre on Demand service (available until 31st May for just £4) is excellent news – Fleabag on stage for all! What’s more, that £4 (or indeed more, if you choose) will be divided up between a number of great charities, all dedicated to supporting those affected by the Covid-19. pandemic.

 

It is wonderful that Fleabag have been able to waive their fees and are using their success to help those most in need in the crisis. But, let’s not lie to ourselves, most of the creative team involved with Emmy-Award winning Fleabag are in a place financially where not being able to create theatre for a year won’t greatly impact upon their lives. Even as guidelines are eased, we know it’s unlikely theatres will be able to open their doors any time soon. With so many reliant on live theatre for their income, from front of house to those in the spotlight, the sector is being forced to find new ways to fundraise to secure their future. Even the ticket price for the other performances available on Soho Theatre on Demand goes to the theatre rather than the charities. It’s an important question that theatres and theatre companies across the UK are having to ask themselves: how can we balance fundraising for ourselves with supporting the wider community?

In this blog series, the Arts Fundraising & Philanthropy team will be looking at some of the different ways theatres and other live performance institutions are reworking their fundraising narratives to sustain themselves, the artists they work with and their audiences, until they can open their doors again in (potentially) 2021, all while navigating the complex environment of a Global Health Crisis.

The National Theatre is releasing one archive show a week on their YouTube channel. YouTube has an option for videos to be ‘fundraisers’, so throughout, the video contains a little pop-up advert asking you to donate to the National Theatre. You even watch the amount fundraised going up as the show goes on, an interesting fundraising technique in itself as it creates a sense of urgency for the viewer even as they are relaxing at the virtual theatre. Releasing one show every Thursday at 7pm, the National is recreating as much as it can the feeling of actually going to the theatre: the community, the anticipation, the necessity to be on time! This is a fantastic gesture from the National, they are incredibly lucky to have an extensive archive of productions to release, and possibly feel the sense that as the “National” theatre they have an obligation to support and share this with the nation at this difficult time.

 

But, this articulation of themselves as the theatre for the nation also works as a fundraising strategy: reinforcing the important narrative of who they are and why people should donate to them. In releasing work from their extensive and impressive back catalogue, the National is subtly reminding audiences how long they have been an institution, and the range of work they have created. Obviously, no matter how solid the National may seem they are still operating at a precarious time. They are an important establishment employing hundreds, but, they know that they are doing so from a position of privilege. They are making the most of their resources, encouraging you to donate, and making sure you can see how much others are willing to. But, primarily, they are acting as a free resource for live theatre for anyone across the UK.

HOME is a multi-arts institution which opened in Manchester in just 2015. In comparison to the National, they have commissioned a full new programme of work for the crisis. Homemakers contains virtual content from across the UK, artists ranging from celebrated performance artist Bryony Kimmings to Manchester emerging company Plaster Cast Theatre. All of the performances are available to watch whenever you want between now and the end of the year, and can be purchased on a Pay-What-You-Want basis. This is a slightly different tactic to the National’s ‘donate if you want, whatever you want’ policy. Audience members are again fully welcome not to pay, but this time they have to go through a ticket page specifically selecting their ticket type. When faced with the reality of selecting exactly what they can afford to pay, with options as low as £2.50, many are more likely to consider exactly what they “can” afford and donate just that little bit to the experience.

 

Another key difference is that HOME’s audience members are donating towards newly created work. HOME are using this unique situation to create work that would never have otherwise been devised. As the National Theatre is telling its story as a long-time producer of seminal works, so HOME is telling its own story as an innovative place for new work to be created. HOME are incredibly lucky in that they have the resources to continue to develop and produce work during lockdown, but they are utilising this as they ask the audience to donate. They are asking them to remember the role that the institution plays in the UK’s theatrical landscape, and what they are asking them to help continue. They are also authenticating this messaging in extending the reach of their fundraising: not just securing the building’s future, but employing artists who have lost many of their usual streams of income.

 

Across the country, institutions are reacting adaptively based on their assets, the narrative they want to tell and the difference they want to make. I think there is much to consider from decisions being made at any level of theatre, which is why over the coming weeks I will be looking at a range of these in a relation to each other.

 

And, on a personal note, I am ecstatic to have live theatre back in any form.

 

Any especially excellent suggestions for streaming of live performance? Or ways that you can use your art to fundraise at this time? Let us know on twitter @artsfundraising or via email here.