A few days ago, I was browsing the Apple Trailers website to see which, if any, movies that were soon to be released would be worth watching. I was mildly unimpressed by the general selection (although I will admit that Polisse looks phenomenal), until I found a trailer for a project called Frankenstein. At first, I thought that it was a trailer for another film rendition of the classic Mary Shelley novel. However, when I started watching the trailer, I saw it wasn’t a trailer for a movie at all – it was a trailer for a theatrical production.
National Theatre Live is re-releasing, in movie theaters around the world, a live recording of Royal National Theatre’s production of Frankenstein, adapted by Nick Dear and directed by Danny Boyle (Oscar-winning director of Slumdog Millionaire).
I looked into this newly-discovered phenomenon of theatre on the big screen, and found that the program of National Theatre Live, run by the Royal National Theatre in London, started in 2009, with the live screening of Phedre, starring Helen Mirren, in 70 cinemas in the UK. The current number of cinemas that screen these theatrical recordings has, so far, reached about 700 venues worldwide, including 326 venues in the United States.
I am fascinated by this idea. Absolutely fascinated.
Why hasn’t this been done before? If it has been, why hadn’t I heard about it? I’ve heard of ballets, operas, and Prairie Home Companion being screened in theaters, but I’ve not heard of a theatrical production getting a cinematic release. Of course there are video recordings of shows in order to preserve their memory. And yes, DVD releases of theatrical productions are quite popular (eg. Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd, Les Misérables in Concert, etc.). And yeah, there’s also PBS that screens Masterpiece Theatre every so often, but very few people in my generation actually watch PBS to begin with (sorry, but unless Sherlock is on, I never watch PBS).
But screening a theatrical production in a movie theater? Never heard of the idea until I watched this trailer for Frankenstein. And personally, I think it’s genius.
If someone asked me to list the top theatre hubs in the world, New York and London would be one and two on my list, interchangeably. I live in California; there is no way that I would have the time or money to fly out to those locations (and more if you want to include Chicago, Moscow, the Edinburgh Festival, etc.) to see live theatre. I recognize that I am fortunate to live in Los Angeles where there is a plethora of theatrical events nearby, but there are so many people who I am sure would love theatre if they were able to have the exposure to it in their immediate location, but since it’s not available to them, they don’t know anything about theatre. National Theatre Live provides just that and more.
This is such a smart move, in my opinion, for several reasons. Like I just stated, a big one is that a wider audience is reached with theatrical theatre releases, thus exposing new audiences to theatre and inviting thespian-lovers worldwide to take a peek at the theatre scene of London. With a wider audience, two things can soon follow: good word of mouth, and more revenue. While that’s all well and good, I think that National Theatre Live is brilliant mostly because this method has such potential to appeal to members of my generation: the teens, tweens, and young adults.
For those of us who are a part of that generation, 90% of us did not grow up with theatre as our means of entertainment. We were taken to the movies, where Disney provided (and still does today) top-notch entertainment, thoughtful stories, captivating visuals, and timeless songs. As we grow up, we continue to go to the movies for entertainment, for date nights, for parties, for mental stimulation, for “just because”. Theatrical events are just that: events. Theatre is something that people take time to plan to go to, have to plan around, and it’s an event. I’m not saying events, or theatrical events, are bad in the slightest. It’s great that theatre is revered as such. However (most everything today is a double-edged sword), while theatre has that status, movies, consequently, are easier to relate with and go to because they’re not always events. It doesn’t take great preparation to go to the movie theater. We don’t have to get dressed up. We don’t have to worry about coughing, or sneezing, or laughing at awkward spots in the show because it’ll disturb the live production. While theatre has an unmatchable energy between the performers and audience, movies are simply more accessible. Unless you live in NYC. Then that’s just not fair.
Thus, for the rest of us who don’t live in theatre metropolises, this union of theatre and movies is PERFECT. The constantly revolutionary style and risk-taking nature of theatre combined with the accessibility and familiar environment of the movie theater makes me so happy. If this is the direction that theatre is choosing to evolve in, I’m totally cool with that. Give me the chance to see an acclaimed production across the world in the comfort of my local movie theater, and I will take it. And most likely, so many people of my generation would do the same.
My one gripe with this is that the United States hasn’t fully jumped on board with this yet. COME ON GUYS!! We have the theatre capital of the world and we have the movie capital of the world. Why haven’t we done this too? And PBS DOESN’T COUNT. Like I said, no one my age watches PBS. It’s a fact of life. Putting shows on Masterpiece Theatre is not going to attract an audience that is dominated by my generation. Ain’t it the truth. Put some Broadway shows in movie theaters! What about The Book of Mormon? People can’t get tickets to the show because it’s so popular. Record it, have a theatrical release for it (don’t make a movie of it; that’s not what I’m saying), and so many people would go see it because it’s far more accessible to the public. What about Wicked? What about War Horse (NOT THE MOVIE)? The reason why War Horse was so well-received by critics and audiences was because of the puppetry, let us see it! Avenue Q? The Phantom of the Opera? In the Heights? M. Butterfly? We want to see the shows, the theatrical productions, not usually-poorly-made film renditions. So let’s look at National Theatre Live as an example; just try releasing a few Broadway production recordings in movie theaters as a test. If it’s a financial bomb, then it doesn’t work. But National Theatre Live has been doing this for almost 4 years now, and I have a feeling that if we tried it too, it could be something monumental in theatrical history.
So… I’m excited. I’m excited for the future of theatre, and I can’t wait to go see some awesome theatre at my local movie theater. Frankenstein looks awesome, it’s playing at a theatre 30 minutes from my house, and I’m psyched. For real. Check out the list of venues here and see if London theatre is screening in a movie theater near you.
National Theatre Live; well played, mate. Well done. I applaud you.
Until next time!
~ Kelsey Carthew; Jedi Master/ Intern