, , , , , , , ,

Streams ahead: NT LIVE

National Theatre Live is invaluable. You could be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at the notion of a “broadcast theatre performance” in a cinema. Since launching, NT Live broadcasts have been seen by an audience of over 7 million people. The first season began in June 2009 with the acclaimed production of Phédre starring Helen Mirren. Recent broadcasts include Follies, Angels in America, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Hedda Gabler.

Upcoming broadcasts include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell and Julius Caesar featuring Ben Whishaw. The National broadcast some of the best of British theatre to 2,500 venues in 60 countries around the world including over 700 hundred in the UK.

nt-live-collections-banner-3ad278472c72858baf1be19b713576f5

Obviously, it’s better to be in the theatre, that goes without saying. Nevertheless, it is true that it is much better to sometimes sit in a cinema in comfort, with a drink in your hand than it is to sit in the worst seat in a theatre. Seats in some theatres are bloody terrible. There are some seats at the top level of The Barbican where you can see more of what is going on in the wings that what is happening on the stage.

It is worth remembering that not everyone has a theatre on their doorstep. In general, NT Live is the most revolutionary thing to happen to the theatre in our lifetime because theatre, which is often condemned as elitist, is now available to anyone who wants it – anywhere: If you can get to a cinema you can see the best of theatre –  at a fraction of the price.

NT Live screenings are a welcome addition to the local Odeon or Picture House for any culture vulture. But they are no alternative. That doesn’t mean it’s not amazing, it just means we need to focus on the future but not lose sight of the value of live performance.

I attended the ‘studio audience’ for the NT Live broadcast of Follies from the theatre. There were rows of seats blocked off in the stalls, with cameras flying overhead and the lighting ever so slightly adjusted for film. It was a wonderful experience and the spectacle of the production carried across to film remarkably well. 

Anyway, I put some questions to the NT Live team and they cleared up some queries that I had, which was ideal.  (You’re welcome)

What is NT Live? 

National Theatre Live started in 2009 as a way to increase access to our work for those audiences who might not have the opportunity to see it. It was initially conceived for UK audiences but the response was so positive, we started screening internationally too. We currently screen to 2500 venues in 60 countries, 700 of which are in the UK which is around 90% and the same as a Hollywood blockbuster.

Our first broadcast was Phedre with Helen Mirren which was seen by over 50,000 people. Our single biggest broadcast is Hamlet with Benendict Cumberbatch which has been seen by more than 800,000 people. Our current worldwide audience is almost 8 million

Who owns it and where are the NT Live offices?

It’s run and managed by the National Theatre and the NT Live team are based at the National Theatre building.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof captured live at the Apollo Theatre during its West End run on February 22

Who are NT Live personnel? 

There are a dedicated number of people who work on NT Live across production, distribution, marketing and press. We work with a freelance team of operators across cameras, sound and lighting for the broadcasts themselves. The Bridge are using NT Live to broadcast Julius Caesar. The team at the Bridge are great friends of ours. Nicholas Hytner is our former director and Nick Starr former executive director here. We hope to broadcast more of their productions in the future. Working with other theatres has been part of the NT Live programme since our second year and supports us in bringing the best of British theatre to cinema audiences.

Is it a stand-alone live broadcast company?

NT Live is run and managed by the National Theatre.

Does it get public funding?

Our pilot season in 2009 was made possible by seed funding from Arts Council England and NESTA (National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) and subsequently through a mix of National Theatre investment and sponsorship. We also have a partnership with Sky Arts which is a year old but has been a great success in its first year and we’re looking forward to see where it will go next.

Can any theatre pay for it and use it? e.g. The Globe.

The Globe and ENO already broadcast their own shows which they organise themselves, this means working with other theatres in London We regularly work with other London theatres including the Young Vic, The Old Vic and the Donmar Warehouse as well as other West End producers. We really enjoy working with other theatres and getting to show their great productions to cinema audiences around the world.

How about a regional theatre?

We have worked with Complicite to broadcast A Disappearing Number live from Theatre Royal in Plymouth as well as Manchester International Festival to broadcast their production of Macbeth with Kenneth Branagh. We also broadcast Of Mice and Men on Broadway, broadcasting more regional theatre is something we’re keen to do more of in the future. Some find it confusing that it has the name NT Live. It both gives it prestige and seems to limit it. What particularly excited us about this concept was the fact that it was captured and broadcast live and that’s why the live is there.  

Imelda-Staunton-l-who-plays-Sally-Durrant-and-Janie-Dee-r-who-plays-Phyllis-Rogers-Stone-waiting-to-go-on-stage-c-Ellie-Kurttz

Imelda Staunton who plays Sally Durrant and Janie Dee who plays Phyllis Rogers Stone waiting to go on stage © Ellie Kurttz

 How are cinema prices decided?

Each cinema chain decides on pricing according to their individual pricing plans.

How do Encore Screenings work?

We programme Encore screenings as a way for audiences to access our productions at more convenient times but also so we are able to give more opportunities to see our most popular broadcasts.

How are the age ratings given?

We are subject to BBFC ratings in the UK and provide the broadcasts to them for classification. They also provide guidance for our live broadcasts based on information we provide to them ahead of the broadcast taking place.

So there we have it. 

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof captured live at the Apollo Theatre during its West End run on February 22, Julius Caesar live from the Bridge Theatre on March 22 and Macbeth live from the National Theatre on May 10