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Abstract The live theatre broadcast has witnessed a phenomenal rise in both popularity and profile over the past decade. This article considers the live theatre broadcast as both a new medium and a form of adaptation. It examines how the medium is ontologically, economically, and culturally positioned between theatre and film, and the extent to which it is, as John Wyver puts it, a ‘hybrid form’. Analyzing the medium in terms of Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, I question how the live theatre broadcast challenges the ‘here’ and the ‘now’ that Benjamin sees as vital to the ‘aura’ of the work of art. I investigate how the live theatre broadcast’s lack of ‘here’ affects audience perception, and how liveness might be seen as a condition of perception rather than of transmission. Exploring Benjamin’s suggestion that film’s celebrization of the actor acts as compensation for the actor’s lack of physical presence, I ask how this concept might inform our understanding of actors in the live theatre broadcast. Finally, the article assesses the extent to which the live theatre broadcast directs the perception of the viewer, and how this direction removes the autonomy of viewing that theatre affords. Live theatre broadcast, perception, intermediality, Walter Benjamin, liveness, NT Live ‘A work of art captured entirely by technological reproduction, indeed (like film) proceeding from it, can have no more direct opposite than live theatre,’ claims Walter Benjamin in ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ (19). Benjamin places film—a medium that epitomizes this ‘age of mechanical reproduction’—into direct contrast with theatre, revealing the two to be both aesthetically and ontologically divergent. What would Benjamin think, then, of the twenty-first-century phenomenon of the live theatre broadcast? Combining live theatre with its ‘direct opposite’ of film, these broadcasts collapse the distinction between the two media, creating a hybrid of theatre- and cinema-going. Nicholas Hytner, the National Theatre’s artistic director when National Theatre Live (hereafter NT Live) was launched, claimed of the scheme’s pilot season that he was ‘confident we have pioneered a new genre, not quite live theatre, certainly not cinema, but an exciting approximation of the real thing whose potential reach is limitless’ (Annual Report 2008–2009: 6). Hytner’s definition of live theatre broadcasts as at once ‘a new genre’ and an ‘approximation of the real thing’ calls into question the precise nature of the live theatre broadcast’s originality as a medium. Is it what John Wyver terms a ‘hybrid form’ (286), a fusion of two pre-existing media, or is it a new form in its own right? The answer, I want to suggest, is that it is both. By broadcasting one medium via another, the live theatre broadcast can be seen as a form of adaptation. This adaptation ought not to be viewed as a neutral transposition of stage onto screen, but rather as a fusion of the two. In the process of adaptation, the live theatre broadcast becomes a medium in itself, with its own unique ontology. This ontology influences the audience’s perception of both the theatrical and cinematic components that constitute the ‘hybrid form’. Acknowledging that scholarship on live theatre broadcasts is in its infancy,1 and using the theoretical frameworks associated with the two pre-existing media of theatre and film, I will ask how looking at the live theatre broadcast as the conflation of film and theatre can shed light on its genesis and ontology. Subsequently, I will propose that the two key differences between film and theatre are liveness and the situation of the audience. Questioning how ‘liveness’ can be defined, I will explore its impact upon the nature of the medium and upon audience perception. I will focus in particular on NT Live’s King Lear (2014) and As You Like It (2016)2 as well as looking at a study carried out by the innovation charity Nesta on audience response to the two pilot screenings of NT Live—Phèdre and All’s Well That Ends Well. I will then move away from viewing the live theatre broadcast in a strictly ontological sense, and will look outward to question its broader social function. The live theatre broadcast enters into a long debate regarding the distinctions between its two composite media: film and theatre. Whilst the historical and critical breadth of these discussions exceeds the scope of this article, the pervasive anxiety regarding film’s succession of theatre as the predominant and most popular medium of entertainment is fundamental to the genesis of live theatre broadcasts. Since its inception, film has been critically and popularly assessed in terms of its relation to, and departure from, theatre. In 1916, Hugo Münsterberg noted that in order to ‘gain our orientation’ towards film, ‘we compare the photoplay with the performance on the theater stage’, questioning how ‘the photoplay differ[s] from a theater performance’ (75). In 1934, Erwin Panofsky defined the social and aesthetic nature of film by directly comparing it to that of theatre: whilst the theatre spectator ‘cannot leave his seat’, for example, the film viewer ‘occupies a fixed seat, but only physically, not as the subject of an aesthetic experience’ (42). But it is Susan Sontag who sums up the distinction most succinctly: ‘The history of cinema is often treated as the history of its emancipation from theatrical models’ (24). Film and theatre are in constant war in aesthetic, cultural, and social spheres. It is almost impossible not to see the birth of the live theatre broadcast as a by-product of this conflict: the medium’s liminal position between theatre and film makes it the no man’s land of the conflict. The live theatre broadcast is, self-avowedly,3 an attempt to increase participation in theatre, and in order to achieve these aims it fuses theatre with a medium that was once viewed as its competitor. This intermediatory relationship can be thought about in terms of Jameson’s ‘postmodern spatialization’, which he claims ‘plays itself out in the relationship and the rivalry among the various spatial media’. Jameson says that ‘we may speak of spatialization here as the process whereby the traditional fine arts are mediatized: that is, they now come to consciousness of themselves as various media within a mediatic system’ (162; emphasis in original). With this remark in mind, Philip Auslander claims that ‘[t]he collapse of the distinction between fine arts and mass media has meant that the theatre now functions as a medium and has to compete for audiences directly with other media’ (2004: 112). He notes that, resultantly, ‘the theatre repurposes existing materials’, and ‘[i]n some cases, this has meant that plays are actually live productions of films or television programs—Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is a case in point’ (2004: 112). In acknowledgement of its embeddedness within this mediatized culture, then, the theatre explicitly borrows from related media, whether that is television, novels, or film. This appropriation occurs not just for artistic material, but, in many cases, for survival. Needing to ‘compete for audiences’ with other mass media, theatre is increasingly staging dramatizations of films in order to attract audiences. As this essay looks specifically at the remit of NT Live, I will focus primarily upon London’s theatre. Many theatres in the West End sustain themselves with long-running musicals derived from films (or from novels that were popularized by their later film adaptations). As Richard Hornby states, ‘[i]n commercial theatre, hit stage productions are now less likely to be made into movies than the reverse’ (199). Matilda, Wicked, The Lion King, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example, have each run for several years. In acknowledgement of its position within a ‘mediatic system’, then, West End theatre increasingly borrows from film, both for content and for economic survival. But for the live theatre broadcast, the inverse of this relationship is important: rather than theatre trying to gain increased prevalence by repurposing the materials or content of other media, it attempts to do so by repurposing these media themselves. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin yoke the term ‘repurposing’ together with their own concept of ‘remediation’. They observe that the ‘entertainment industry’s understanding of remediation as repurposing reveals the inseparability of the economic from the social and material’. They go on to note how the ‘industry defines repurposing as pouring a familiar content into another media form’, not in order to ‘replace the earlier forms’ but instead ‘to spread the content over as many markets as possible’. In doing so, they claim, ‘[e]ach of these new forms takes part of its meaning from the other products in a process of honorific remediation and at the same time makes a tacit claim to offer an experience that the other forms cannot’ (68). The live theatre broadcast conforms to this observation: it is honorific yet unique, loyal yet innovative. But this fusion of old and new ought not to be viewed in purely economic terms. Bolter and Grusin’s argument centers upon how new mediums are created through this fusion. Despite the complexity of the term ‘medium’, Bolter and Grusin afford it a self-avowedly ‘simple definition’: ‘a medium is that which remediates. It is that which appropriates the techniques, forms, and social significance of other media and attempts to rival or refashion them’ (64). The live theatre broadcast appropriates, refashions, and indeed adapts, the techniques, forms, and social significance of both film and theatre for artistic as well as economic purposes. The live theatre broadcast can thus be considered a medium in its own right, since it is both a hybrid and a remediator of film and theatre, their appropriator and their rival. In the act of ‘remediation’, or indeed Auslander’s ‘repurposing’, there are both changes and consistencies. I will start by looking at what theatre retains in this act of mediatisation via the live theatre broadcast, what distinguishes it in that media constellation, and what has hitherto made it unable to have a mass media reach: its liveness. ‘Liveness is not a fact; it is an ideology’:4 defining liveness Without the sense of liveness, the live theatre broadcast is no different from its predecessor—filmed theatre—or its contemporary—digital theatre. Indeed, it is no coincidence that liveness is central to other broadcasted media, such as broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera, The Royal Opera, and The Royal Ballet from which NT Live took its cue (See Sabel in Nesta 2011: 8). I will begin by looking at ‘liveness’ in Benjaminian terms, and the impact that mechanical reproduction has had on its cultural function. I will then look at the symbolic capital of liveness, before viewing liveness in terms of communality. ‘Liveness’ as a quality can be viewed in terms of Benjamin’s notion of the ‘aura’. Benjamin claims that ‘[e]ven with the most perfect reproduction, one thing stands out: the here and now of the work of art—its unique existence in the place where it is at this moment’ (5). He posits that the ‘here and now of the original constitute the abstract idea of its genuineness’, and this genuineness—or as he proceeds to term it, ‘aura’—‘shrinks in an age where the work of art can be reproduced by technological means’ (7). In their replication of the original into a mechanical form, live theatre broadcasts epitomize Benjamin’s notion of a ‘mechanical reproduction’: the live theatre broadcast takes live theatre and transforms it into its ‘direct opposite’, film. But this new medium does not fit exactly into Benjamin’s model for one key reason: it complicates the notion of the ‘here and now’. In the live theatre broadcast, the ‘here’ of the original, its physical presence, becomes, in Benjaminian terms, ‘devalued’ (7): indeed, its very raison d’être is to make geographic location irrelevant. And yet the ‘now’, the temporal simultaneity of the original becomes vital: it is what distinguishes the live theatre broadcast from filmed or digital theatre. The aura that Benjamin believes is born from the artwork’s ‘here and now’ is thus complicated: if there is at once a repudiation of the importance of physical presence and a prioritisation of temporal simultaneity, does the aura of the original diminish? To answer this question, we must first look at how liveness came into being. Just as the live theatre broadcast is born from its cultural conditions, the very notion of liveness itself is arguably born from Benjamin’s ‘age of mechanical reproduction’. In her seminal work on performance, Peggy Phelan argues that Performance’s life is only in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance. To the degree that performance attempts to enter the economy of reproduction it betrays and lessens the promise of its own ontology. Performance’s being, like the ontology of subjectivity proposed here, becomes itself through disappearance (146). In Phelan’s terms, liveness is what defines and distinguishes performance. It is the inability of liveness to enter into ‘the economy of reproduction’ that Phelan believes is crucial to its ontology. But Phelan’s assertion is complicated by the live theatre broadcast’s existence as reproduction that is also ‘in the present’. The performance is simultaneously recorded and live, and this is precisely how it enters into the economy of reproduction, transforming what Phelan calls the ‘quality which makes performance the runt of the litter of contemporary art’ into a crucial asset (148). The live theatre broadcast embraces the fundamental characteristic that once made theatre culturally and economically secondary to film. Auslander critiques Phelan’s stance, claiming that ‘the live can only exist within an economy of reproduction’ (1999: 54): liveness is created from the potential for reproduction; it ‘has meaning only in relation to an opposing possibility’ (1999: 51). The notion of liveness is born from the possibility of its opposite. In turn, the birth of liveness is accompanied by the birth of a hierarchy: when two things are placed into such direct opposition—in both an economic and abstract sense—a battle for superiority commences. NT Live’s report on its second season is filled with this implicit hierarchisation: it repeatedly acknowledges that live broadcasts could ‘never replace the unique experience of being in the actual theatre’, and ‘is not the same as being in the theatre and never could be’ (Sabel in Nesta, 2011: 9). By hierarchizing in this manner, liveness becomes more than a solely ontological trait: it becomes symbolically significant. Auslander points out that ‘live events have a cultural value: being able to say that you were physically present at a particular event constitutes valuable symbolic capital’ (1999: 57). They take on symbolic capital, Auslander posits, because ‘[t]he less an event leaves behind in the way of artifacts and documentation, the more symbolic capital accrues to those who were in attendance’ (1999: 58). But if theatre is now not only ‘leaving behind […] artifacts and documentation’ but actually creating those aspects simultaneously with its own creation, does this cause a devaluation of the ‘original’ live act of theatre itself? To approach the question from an economic standpoint, we might look at the aforementioned Nesta survey. While 89.1% of cinema respondents said that the broadcast had made them ‘more likely to attend other live broadcasts of theatre performances in the future’, only 33.9% said it had made them ‘more likely to attend a performance at the National Theatre in the future’, and only 29.6% said that it had made them ‘more likely to attend a play at another theatre in the future’ (2010: 11). The symbolic capital of liveness no longer has anything to do with spatiality, with Benjamin’s ‘here’: rather, the ‘now’ is where the cinema audience locate symbolic capital. To this extent, the original theatre production is devalued: the theatre itself is secondary to the liveness associated with it. NT Live Encore screenings further complicate the symbolic capital of watching the live production. They are an even stronger example of the ‘artifacts’ that Auslander believes devalue the symbolic capital of the initial event: they are replays of once-live productions, and they therefore constitute neither the ‘here’ nor the ‘now’ that Benjamin associates with aura. Is there any longer a sense of urgency attached to seeing a production? If you are aware that you will be able to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet in cinemas for the next year, are you as likely to want to see it live? And if you do see it live, does that event carry the same significance as it did before NT Live? These replayed broadcasts demand a different attitude towards liveness. With television broadcasting in mind, Rick Altman denies the necessity for liveness to be defined as an event occurring at the same time as it is viewed. He argues that ‘[w]hether the events transmitted by television are live or not, the television experience itself is thus sensed as live by the home viewing audience’ (45). There is a shift, then, in the attribution of liveness from the original act itself to the perception of the spectator. Rather than seeing liveness in the nature of the original, it is instead seen as a condition of viewing. NT Live Encore screenings diminish the symbolic capital of liveness associated with the original production, and transpose this capital onto the liveness of watching the production simultaneously with other people. The Nesta survey demonstrates the distinction between liveness as an ontological trait and as an element of audience perception. According to the Nesta survey, the audience’s expectation of the event, its existence as a concept, does not equate to their actual experience. Only 16.5% of cinema respondents said that their ‘main expectation about the performance’ was ‘[t]o experience the excitement and “buzz” of a live performance’, as opposed to 34.0% of the theatre audience. The cinema audience’s main expectation—at 59.8%—was ‘[t]o experience a new way of presenting theatre’ (2010: 9). According to this survey, then, it is the novelty of the medium that attracted the majority of its audience; liveness was the secondary motivating factor. And yet audience perception after the performance suggests otherwise: 84.3% of the cinema audience agreed that they ‘felt real excitement because [they] knew that the performance was live’ (2010: 9). These figures deny the importance of symbolic capital for attendance at the production, but demonstrate the significance of liveness for both the perception of the production: liveness is fundamental to the conditions of reception, and also to the audience’s perception of the broadcast. This trend is noted in the National Theatre’s report on the success of NT Live Encore screenings: it claims that ‘[w]hilst “actual” or simultaneous liveness may not be critical, capturing a sense of event and the atmosphere of the live performance may enhance the audience’s experience’ (Nesta 2011: 19). It is for this reason that the National Theatre ‘made the choice not to edit delayed broadcasts […] The intention was to preserve a sense of event so that the collective experience of the performance should remain consistent for all audiences’ (2011: 16). In this sense, presentation and perception become entwined: by not editing the film, the audience are given the impression that they are seeing something that was once live, linking their experience to the experience of everyone who has seen the broadcast. The shift from viewing liveness as an attribute of the event to an attribute of its perception, then, reveals the importance of this ‘collective experience’. The function of liveness could be seen as a means to link people to one another rather than to the event itself: the National Theatre’s desire to create a ‘consistent [experience] for all audiences’, regardless of when they are viewing the production, demonstrates the function of liveness as a collective experience. It is significant that the term ‘broadcast’ is used to describe the medium, as opposed to ‘stream’ or ‘relay’, and a closer look at this term can help to elucidate the importance of collective experience. Originating from the compound agricultural term ‘broad-cast’, the word was specifically applied to the media in the 1920s to mean ‘dissemination by means of radio or television’ (OED Online). In light of this definition, a different critical vocabulary is required: that of radio and television. The history of the live theatre broadcast is intimately bound up with the history of radio. Indeed, the Metropolitan Opera’s broadcasts were transmitted via radio before they were screened in cinemas. The first incarnation of the ‘live theatre broadcast’ can arguably be found as early as 1881, with the invention of the electrophone. An important precursor to radio, the electrophone transmitted live performances of theatre into households via telephone lines. Forging a significant link between the electrophone and the definition of broadcasting, Tim Crook states that ‘[t]he electrophone was the first device to achieve actual “broadcasting” by disseminating the same source to a wide number of individuals at the same time’ (23). Here, Crook identifies two elements of broadcasting that would later become fundamental to both the electrophone’s successor—radio—and to the live theatre broadcast: breadth of dissemination, and the simultaneity of reception with transmission. Early radio broadcasts of theatre share the electrophone’s approach to broadcasting. As Richard J. Hand and Mary Traynor put it, in the 1920s radio drama was ‘essentially broadcasts of stage productions’, which ‘must have seemed like “listening in” to a play in the theatre’ (14). Crucially, they argue, ‘it is “liveness” that characterizes early radio’ (17). In this sense the early radio broadcast varied from the electrophone only insofar as the magnitude of its reach: both were forms of transmitting a theatre production while it occurred to a wider number of people than those inside the auditorium. ‘Broadcast’ could thus still be defined by the same two criteria: the breadth of its dissemination, and reception and transmission’s simultaneity. There was, however, a vital change in radio’s theatre broadcasts during World War II. As Hand and Traynor note, whilst at first ‘the experience of listening to radio drama was intended to replicate that of the theatre’, this experience seismically shifted when radio became ‘a substitute for theatre-going’ (33). Rather than broadcasting a live event, radio began to broadcast plays that were written specifically and exclusively for the home. This change transformed radio drama from a means of participating in a live event into a private domestic activity. Radio no longer mediated between theatre and audience; it was a type of theatre in itself. The necessity for the liveness of the event resultantly vanished: in its place was an entirely new approach to broadcasting, one that was more concerned with breadth of reach and simultaneity of reception than with the liveness of transmission. The advent of television, I want to suggest, saw the reinstating of liveness as a fundamental element of broadcasting. Auslander asserts that ‘[a]s a camera-bound medium, television might well have striven to be cinematic; but instead it strove to be theatrical’. He believes this choice is the result of television’s ‘ontology of liveness’ being ‘more akin to the ontology of theatre than to that of film’ as ‘[t]elevision’s essence was seen in its ability to transmit events as they occur, not in a filmic capacity to record events for later viewing’ (1999: 12). In this sense, the live theatre broadcast adopts an ontological existence more aligned with television than with radio, insofar as its function is to ‘transmit events as they occur’. At the beginning of NT Live’s broadcast of King Lear, Emma Freud uses a discourse that echoes Auslander’s vocabulary regarding television: the audience are told that the production is being ‘transmitted’ and ‘beamed’ to them from the Olivier stage at the National Theatre. This vocabulary suggests a similar sense of reach as the term ‘broadcasting’: it is an image being sent from afar to an audience that exists outside of the ‘here’ of the original object. But again, and with television too, there is the sense that the actual liveness of the original—its ‘now’—does not matter. John Ellis notes how the notion that broadcast TV is live still haunts the medium; even more so does the sense of immediacy of the image. The immediacy of the broadcast TV image does not just lie in the presumption that it is live, it lies more in the relations that image sets up for itself. Immediacy is the effect of the directness of the TV image, the way in which it constitutes itself and its viewers as held in a relationship of co-present intimacy. (132) Liveness equals immediacy equals ‘co-present intimacy’. It is the latter that is most important to the aforementioned sense of communality: despite the actual temporal existence of what is being broadcasted, it is the co-presence, and the intimacy born from this, that creates a sense of liveness. The term ‘broadcast’, then, identifies the important relationship between audience and medium: it suggests a wider reach of the original, and one which, crucially, does not rely on its ‘here’ or on a conventional conception of ‘now’. Television and the live theatre broadcast exhibit a similar approach to communality: it is not a geographical or temporal simultaneity between the audience member and the work that is important, but a temporal simultaneity between the audience members. The importance of this sense of communality to the experience of liveness can be seen in the Nesta survey. The theatre and cinema audiences’ responses to the question of whether ‘seeing the play in the company of an audience increased [their] enjoyment’ was almost identical: only 15.2% of the theatre audience and 14.9% of the cinema audience disagreed (Nesta 2010: 9). Vital to both audiences is their perception of the simultaneous reception of the production, regardless of the medium through which it is transmitted. ‘The fact that the work of art can now be reproduced by technological means alters the relationship of the mass to art’, claims Benjamin (26; emphasis in original). He goes on to state that ‘nowhere more than in the cinema do the individual reactions that together make up the mass reaction of the audience prove from the outset to be caused by their immediately imminent massing’ (26). The cinema audience’s perception of the broadcast, I have suggested, is influenced by their simultaneous reception, their sense of communal liveness, their ‘immediately imminent massing’. But it is not only this condition of reception that alters the cinema audience’s perception. As a hybrid medium, the live theatre broadcast has its own unique form of presentation. I now want to assess how that mode of presentation, and its liminal state between theatre and film, shapes the audience’s perception. Magician becomes surgeon: the live theatre broadcast’s relation to its audience Benjamin likens the relationship of the painter and the cameraman to their respective audiences to that of a magician and a surgeon’s relationship to their ‘patients’. He claims that the painter is like a magician, who ‘maintains the natural distance between himself and the patient; to be precise, he reduces it only slightly (by virtue of a laying-on of hands) while increasing it (by virtue of his authority) hugely’. The cameraman, on the other hand, is like a surgeon, who ‘reduces the distance to the patient a great deal (by actually going inside him) and increases it only a little (through the care with which his hand moves among the latter’s organs)’ (25). The theatre works like the magician: it maintains a distance between itself and its audience by allowing for a similar freedom of interpretation as a painting affords. Both permit the experience of a totality, whilst cinema presents only elements of that totality. By combining theatre with ‘the cameraman’, the live theatre broadcast similarly combines the magician with the surgeon. This combination might first be explored by investigating the relationship between the audience and the performance. The differences between the theatre and cinema audiences’ engagement with NT Live broadcasts are stark: 60.6% of the cinema audience ‘strongly agreed’ that they were ‘totally absorbed’ by the performance, as opposed to just 38% of the theatre audience. Similarly, 23.3% of the cinema audience ‘strongly agreed’ that they were ‘transported into another world and lost track of time’, in contrast to 12.1% of the theatre audience. Their emotional connection to the performance is equally significant: 46.1% of the cinema audience versus 27.7% of the theatre audience ‘strongly agreed’ that they ‘felt an emotional response to the play’, and 70.5% of the cinema audience in contrast to 51.7% of the theatre audience agreed that they ‘could relate to, or feel a bond with the performers’ (2010: 9). It is clear that it is the mode of presentation, as opposed to what is presented, that dictates the audience’s personal perception of the performance. This discrepancy in emotional engagement can be attributed to the way in which live theatre presents the actor. Rosenkrantz claims that characters on the screen are quite naturally objects of identification, while those on the stage are, rather, objects of mental opposition because their real presence gives them an objective reality and to transpose them into beings in an imaginary world the will of the spectator has to intervene actively, that is to say, to will the transformation of their physical reality into an abstraction. (quoted in Bazin: 99) According to Rosenkrantz, then, the theatre audience must actively suppress their awareness of the actor’s dual and physical existence as actor and character in order to create the character in their minds. The cinema audience, on the other hand, see the screen as a hermetic realm, one that does not require any process of abstraction because the screen actor does not have the dual physical identity that stage actor does. Stanley Cavell asserts that ‘[o]n the stage there are two beings, and the being of the character assaults the being of the actor; the actor survives only by yielding.’ Contrastingly, the screen actor ‘lives and dies with the character’, for he is ‘essentially not an actor at all: he is the subject of study, and a study not his own’ (27). Cavell summarizes this distinction by saying that ‘[o]n screen the study is projected; on a stage the actor is the projector’ (28). Benjamin concurs: he claims that ‘An actor working in the theatre enters into a part. Very often the screen actor is not allowed to’ (19; emphasis in original). But Benjamin and Cavell’s most important similarity is in their identification of the way in which the cinema creates a ‘star’. Cavell claims that ‘[a]n exemplary stage performance is one which, for a time, most fully creates a character. […] An exemplary screen performance is one in which, at a time, a star is born’ (28). Benjamin views this celebritization as a product of the age of mechanical reproduction: he claims that ‘[f]ilm’s response to the shrivelling of aura is an artificial inflation of “personality” outside the studio’ (21). The stage actor’s aura is the result of the audience’s awareness of him as an independent being; the screen actor’s aura, having been diminished through the process of mechanical reproduction, is displaced into the world outside the screen. Live theatre broadcasts complicate the aura of the actor: straddling the boundary between film and theatre means straddling the boundary between a filmic celebritization and a theatrical awareness of constructedness. The live theatre broadcast must find ways to communicate to its audience the theatre’s awareness of the actor as a person, and it must do so in a medium that, through its existence on screen, ignores or denies this relationship. One way in which the live theatre broadcast communicates this awareness is through its extra-diegetic material. During the play’s interval, the cinema audience is given documentary-style materials that give extra information on the production. Wardle dubs these materials ‘“digital programmes”’, (140) and indeed, for the cinema audience they replace the material object of the theatre programme.5 Cochrane and Bonner similarly note the way in which this digital programme is an attempt to add something that is lost in the adaptation from theatre to cinema: ‘[t]his is neither a dramaturgical nor strictly a technical adaptation. Rather it acknowledges the different practices of the site of reception. […] The extras give privileged access and compensate for the loss of the experience of being there’ (129). I would argue that these materials are more than just compensatory: they are indicative how live theatre broadcasts enact a celebritization of the theatre cast. In live theatre broadcasts, the inflation of ‘personality’ occurs inside the cinema and yet outside the diegesis through interview materials that reveal the actors behind the characters. In NT Live’s As You Like It, for example, the interval segment showed various actors talking about their preparation for the role, and in NT Live’s King Lear, the actors discussed their interpretations of their roles and the relationships between their characters. Before King Lear began, there was a ‘Did You Know?’ feature that gave information on Simon Russell Beale and various other famous actors’ interpretations of King Lear. There is an attempt in these broadcasts, as Benjamin identifies, to ‘inflat[e] [the] “personality”‘ of the actor, thereby compensating for the loss of the aura that was provided by the theatre actor’s physical presence. It could be argued that a similar celebritizing is enacted through the biographies and interviews of a theatre programme, but there is a crucial difference: the cinema programme is given to its audience via the same medium as the production; the theatre programme is in an entirely different medium. There is an important reason for this: the broadcast’s programme materials are, most importantly, an attempt to compensate for the medium’s inability to physically present the actor as both person and character, and thereby create an awareness in the audience of the actor as such. Since the live theatre broadcast wants to be faithful to theatre, it delivers the programme materials through the hermetic realm of a singular medium in an attempt to prompt an awareness of the actor’s dual nature. It must be noted that these sections are, to a certain extent, optional. Just like in the theatre, the audience can choose to leave their seat for the interval; indeed, there is an on-screen clock counting down the time remaining before the beginning of the second act. If viewed in this light, then the interval materials might be seen in a similar way to a play’s ‘question and answer’ session or DVD extras: the viewer can choose whether or not to watch them. There is, however, a key difference in the live theatre broadcast’s extra-diegetic material: rather than occurring at the end of the performance, these materials intersperse the two halves of the broadcast. Their optional nature is accordingly, at least partially, superseded by a sense of significance: they do not feel like appended ‘extras’, but rather an optional element of the broadcast as a hermetic unit. The importance of celebritization in the cinema audience’s decision to attend a live broadcast appears to be minimal. The Nesta survey notes that only 18.6% of the cinema audience cited Helen Mirren as their reason for attending, the lowest of any of the options (‘Interest in the play’ at 19.6%, ‘It was a National Theatre production’ at 21.1%, and ‘To see a theatrical performance broadcast in the cinema’ at 34.8%). By contrast, ‘at 60.3 per cent the overwhelming majority of theatregoers reported that wanting to see Helen Mirren live was their main reason for attending the play at the National Theatre’ (2010: 8). It is clear from these figures that the role of the celebrity has a greater importance for the motivations of the theatre audience than the cinema audience. I would suggest that the theatre audience’s desire to see a celebrity in person is a desire to recapture the sense of aura that Benjamin claims is lost through mechanical reproduction: they want to see the actor live, not reproduced on a screen. As André Bazin exalts, ‘there they are, if I may say so, “in the flesh.” Ah! The irreplaceable presence of the actor!’ (106) The value attributed to seeing an actor live is another aspect of liveness’s symbolic capital: even in this ‘age of mechanical reproduction’, the desire to see an actor—and especially, like Mirren, one often seen on screen—live attests to the continued importance of the aura. The double bind here is that the symbolic capital is specifically attributed to seeing a famous actor live—Mirren, for one, but also Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, and Mark Strong, who have all starred in some of NT Live’s most successful productions—and this fame is itself the product of the age of mechanical reproduction. The live theatre broadcast, then, adapts the original theatre production in such a way that the cinema audience’s perception empirically differs from that of the theatre audience. I have suggested that this discrepancy in perception is, in part, due to the lack of physical body in front of the broadcast’s audience. Benjamin notes how the screen actor’s performance ‘undergoes a series of optical tests’: firstly, it is ‘mediated by the camera’; secondly, the actor is ‘deprived of the possibility open to the stage actor of adapting that performance to the audience as the show goes on’ (17–18). In the live theatre broadcast, the camera mediates the stage actor’s performance, and the actor can only adapt their performance for the theatre audience. Benjamin goes on to claim that ‘the cinema audience is being asked to examine and report without any personal contact with the performer intruding. [...] It thus assumes the camera’s stance: it tests.’ (18; emphasis in original) I will now assess the audience’s ‘stance’ and question how that stance influences their perception of the medium. The distracted examiner: the audience’s relationship to the broadcast The audience must be considered not only in terms of how they are acted upon, but also in terms of how they themselves act—that is, if they can act at all. Benjamin concludes that ‘The kind of reception in a state of distraction that to an increasing extent is becoming apparent in all fields of art and is symptomatic of profound changes in apperception has its true practice instrument in film’ (35; emphasis in original). This idea of ‘reception in a state of distraction’, and its connection to film, raises important questions when considering the live theatre broadcast. Theatre requires a mode of perception that is not passive: the audience member must make their choice about where to look, and to which character or object to give their attention, thereby editing the performance in their own way. Cochrane and Lawrence call the autonomy afforded by the theatre the ‘rights of reception’ (Picture This: NT Live or Not, conference paper, as quoted in Cochrane and Bonner, 127): the audience member can and must perceive the play as they choose, and each experience will be unlike that of the person sitting next to them. In film, on the other hand, the autonomy to edit is taken away from the viewer. There are a whole host of people who interfere with what the audience end up seeing: the cinematographer, the director, the editor. Drawing a similar conclusion to Benjamin, Bazin contrasts the ‘mass mentality’ created in a film audience to the individuality required in the theatre. He states that the theatre up to a certain point stands in the way of the creation of a mass mentality. It stands in the way of any collective representation in the psychological sense, since theater calls for an active individual consciousness while the film requires only a passive adhesion. (99) With Bazin and Benjamin in mind, it is necessary to question how the live theatre broadcast negotiates, or fails to negotiate, the boundary between ‘active individual consciousness’ and ‘passive adhesion’. Whereas theatre offers freedom of subjectivity to the audience member, in film this subjectivity is determined by the presentation of the content. The camera is not an objective device: it is determined by the subjective desires of those who operate it. Alexandre Astruc’s theory of the ‘caméra-stylo’ was seminal in suggesting the way in which the camera would come to function in a similar manner to a writer’s pen, as ‘a means of writing just as flexible and subtle as written language’ (32). His theory is most important for revealing that the camera is not simply a recording device: it is a representational device, a ‘means of expression, just as all the other arts have been before it’ (31). The ‘caméra-stylo’ complicates the audience’s ‘rights of reception’, and, to an extent, goes further than just removing these rights by attempting to direct perception. This direction of perception signals the most fundamental change that occurs in the cinematisation of the live production: the diminished autonomy of the audience. A comparison of the NT Live broadcast of As You Like It and the live theatre production reveals the ability of the ‘caméra-stylo’ to not only write but to dictate the perception of the viewer. The crucial difference between the broadcast and the live performance was the presentation and perception of comedy. In the broadcast, the camera gave significant screen-time to Celia, capturing her facial expressions predominantly—and significantly—through reaction shots. These shots prompted laughter in the cinema audience that did not occur in the theatre audience, and this difference was, for the most part, the result of editing: reaction shots relied on the speed of the cutting. Crucially, there was no moment at which the theatre audience laughed at the same moment of reaction as the cinema audience. Whilst the cinema audience’s attention was specifically directed as a result of these shots, the same effect did not (and could not) exist in the theatre, unless directed by the actors on stage or by the audience member’s personal glance. Another crucial example of this direction of attention was in Jaques’s famous speech in Act II Scene 7: the cinema audience was given a shot that foregrounded Jaques, whilst Orlando carried Adam into the background. The framing of both in the same shot linked them directly together and thereby applied Jaques’s speech to Orlando and Adam: two of the ‘ages of man’ were shown together. The same effect was not apparent in the live theatre production: Jaques was physically isolated stage-right, and his speech was presented as a private musing. The cinema audience’s perception of the play can be adapted according to the cinematography used for its presentation. A similar direction of perception can be seen in the extra-diegetic ‘digital programmes’. Again, these materials do more than simply ‘compensate for the loss of the experience of being there’: they enact a direction of perception that removes autonomy from the viewer. Indeed, Wardle states that ‘[t]here is an inherent risk in these “digital programmes” of steering the audience to a view of the play more decisively than with a theatre programme, where the audience member has more choice whether to read before the performance, later or not at all’ (147). Wardle proceeds to note how these ‘digital programmes’ become ‘instrumental in creating a heightened filter of perception through which to view the remainder of the play’ (148): they create a direction of thought that does not exist to the same extent—if at all—in the theatre, giving the audience, whether they want it or not, an interpretive lens through which to regard to production. The programme material of King Lear is a prime example: the audience were presented with a short documentary that revealed the director and Beale’s interpretation of Lear as having Lewy Body dementia. A doctor details the symptoms of this illness—such as shaking hands—and there are cuts to clips from the dress rehearsal in which we see these symptoms being enacted by Beale. There is no doubt that this moment of film impacts on the viewing of the second half of the play. Wardle claims that this moment ‘ratcheted up’ ‘the audience’s sympathy for Lear’, and the cinematography after the interval supports this claim: there was an increased use of close-up shots on Lear that allowed the audience to see the symptoms of dementia played out on an intimate, micro-level. Through these ‘digital programmes’, the audience’s ‘rights of reception’, rights that Cochrane and Bonner believe ‘surpass all other elements of the theatrical experience’, are further diminished (127). The live theatre broadcast is unable to neutrally transpose the stage onto the screen, because, as Benjamin puts it, ‘Guided by its operator, the camera comments on the performance continuously’ (17). In this act of commentary, the aura of the original becomes complicated: whilst the camera permits the cinema audience to perceive the original at the same time as the theatre audience, that perception itself is dictated by the camera. By altering the audience’s experience of the original, the live theatre broadcast becomes not merely a form of technological reproduction, but a form of technological adaptation. The live theatre broadcast can be seen as an attempt to transpose the stage onto the screen. I have sought to reveal that this transposition is not as neutral as might first be assumed, and is, instead, a form of adaptation. In the process of adaptation, the live theatre broadcast becomes a new medium, one with its own ontology and, resultantly, its own unique mode of audience perception. The live theatre broadcast should not be considered in a solely ontological sense: its social impact is equally important. When NT Live was launched in 2009, it accounted for just 0.27% of the National’s revenue; in 2014–15, it accounted for 4%, or £6.1 million—an increase of 2151% (Brownlee: 6). These figures attest to a demand that, to my mind, extends further than percentages or pounds: it reveals a growing desire to see theatre, regardless of geographical location or financial circumstance. Geography no longer stands in the way of seeing a National Theatre production: ‘36 million adults [or ‘approximately 68% of the population’] live within 12 minutes drive of an NT cinema’, and ‘[i]n 2014–15, the ticketed audience for National Theatre productions and broadcasts of NT Live in the UK was 2.9m, 46% of whom were outside London’ (Annual Review 2014–15). Financial situation is another potentially prohibiting factor, and one that the live theatre broadcast again mitigates. The Nesta study claims that ‘attending the live screening appears to have had a particularly significant impact on the intention of lower income groups’: 15.8% of the theatre audience had a salary of less than £20,000, as opposed to 24.5% of the cinema audience, and just 12.9% of the cinema audience versus 25.5% of the theatre audience had a salary of over £50,000 (2010: 7). The live theatre broadcast, these figures suggest, opens up theatre to a demographic that may otherwise struggle to participate. The live theatre broadcast has made progress in making theatre more accessible, but with its increased reach comes increased problems. In a recent article comparing the gross revenues of the National Theatre and the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, David Brownlee has revealed that the New Vic had an annual gross box office revenue of £1.4m; little more than a quarter of NT Live’s income alone (6). How will the live theatre broadcast impact upon the regional market? Does it place undue significance upon the theatre of the capital? Will it cannibalize audiences, or will it expand, diversify, and develop them? These questions are fundamental not only to the future of the live theatre broadcast, but to theatre on a broader scale. A medium born from theatre now has the potential to change our theatrical landscape; how that change will manifest itself, only time will tell. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS With thanks to Dr Andrew Hodgson and Alex Millen. REFERENCES As You Like It . Dir. by Polly Findlay . London : Olivier Stage, National Theatre , 2016 . Altman Rick. “ Television/Sound ”. in Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture , Ed. Tania Modleski . Bloomington : Indiana University Press , 1986 , 39 – 54 . Auslander Philip. Liveness: Performances in a Mediatized Culture . London : Routledge , 1999 . ——, ‘ Postmodernism and Performance ’, in The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism . Ed. Steven Connor . 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Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Footnotes 1 There is, to my knowledge, only one book-length study on the live theatre broadcast currently in existence: Martin Barker, Live to Your Local Cinema: The Remarkable Rise of Livecasting (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). 2 This analysis is based on my viewings of the live broadcast of King Lear and the National Theatre Archive’s recording of this broadcast, as well as both the live broadcast and live theatre production of As You Like It. 3 The NT Live’s mission was to ‘greatly increase the opportunity for people to see a National Theatre production, especially those outside London.’ (David Sabel in Nesta, 2011.) 4 Robert Vianello, “The Power Politics of ‘Live’ Television”, Journal of Film and Video 37.3 (1985): 40. 5 At the NT Live broadcast of As You Like It, a single side of A4 was distributed by the cinema ushers. This sheet contained a cast and crew list, and was purely factual. © The Author(s) 2018. 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Adaptation – Oxford University Press
Published: Aug 1, 2018
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