By Violet Brookes
The term “new normal” is used often these days. And indeed, things are going to be very different due to the effects of the global pandemic. Since mid-March, conversations in the theater world have focused on how theater companies will adapt to this new normal. But as everyone has now realized, stage performances in front of live audiences are still months away.
In the meantime, what should theater enthusiasts, actors and producers do? One option is to perform smaller shows such as one-person and two-handed games online. (Successful examples of the form include The 24 Hour Plays: Viral Monologues.) However, many people who might want to try getting into online theater are holding back due to lack of knowledge. That’s why we’ve put together this brief guide on the subject.
Your equipment will be the conduit that will help you reach your audience. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance that you get the right parts for the job. The two things you’ll want to focus on are video and audio.
Getting a good video camera is imperative for your online theater show. This is because people won’t be enticed to tune in if you give them shoddy material. A simple way to solve this problem is to invest in a video camera. A standard camcorder should suffice as it can provide you with crystal clear images at a reasonable price. The Canon VIXIA HF R800 features a 3.28MP Full HD CMOS image sensor that can provide your viewers with lifelike images even in low light conditions.
Now, we understand that not everyone will have a pro-level camera. However, phones today offer everyone an affordable option when it comes to video cameras. Tech Radar highlights how smartphones today can keep pace with pro-level cameras. This becomes even more true when you use them with apps like Lightroom CC, which allows smartphones to shoot in high dynamic range if your phone doesn’t already have this feature.
Along with having a good video camera, you’ll want to make sure the audio quality is up to par. The Sennheiser E835’s dynamic voice pickup ensures high-level voice quality even if you stray from optimal range, which is why the mic is considered a must-have for theater and live concerts. That said, you’ll still want to find the optimal mic placement for your live theater setups. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this, as you will need to experiment rigorously to find the best position, depending on the mic you are using. Our advice for this would be to test this with friends or your sound team until you get the best results.
These two pieces of gear should be enough to put on a good show. But now an important question: Where do you stream it?
This next part is essential, because choosing the right streaming platform for your show can make or break it. Although there are tons of options, YouTube may be your best bet due to the sheer numbers. YouTube receives more than 1.8 billion users each month, second only to Facebook’s 2 billion active users. YouTube’s live feature also lets you automatically save the live stream to your channel, allowing people who may have missed your show to watch it later.
Several theater companies have started broadcasting live theater on the platform. Theater for the New City Visitors in the dark and Red Bull Theatre’s 2020 Short New Play Festival both streamed on the site to great acclaim.
Another important thing to note would be that streaming platforms and online video platforms can also be used for other theater-related purposes. The Zoom video conferencing application is very useful for organizing webinars on all theater-related topics. Facebook and Instagram Live are great for promoting and interacting with your respective communities, so it would be in your best interest to use those tools as well.
Finally, one thing you’ll want to do before you start your live stream is test your show. There are two ways to do this, one would be to hold a private stream which will not be open to the public. This way, you can test everything you do on the stream itself without exposing your audience to potential errors or misfires. Another way would be to use apps that rate the quality of your stream. Popular streaming platform Twitch has its own app called Inspector which allows you to analyze and fix any issues that may arise during your live stream.
One of the worst things that can happen to your performance is if your equipment or internet connection goes down in the middle of the show. Any interruptions can cause people to click, leading to a drop in viewership.
To minimize the chances of this happening, you’ll want to do a stress test well in advance of your show date. This way, you will be able to correct any issues that may arise during the test.
Violet Brookes has been passionate about theater all her life. And if she never really pursued a career on stage, she makes up for it with her writing. She hopes to one day become a theater critic who will enrich the level of discourse of this versatile medium.
If you have any tips to pass on from your own online live theater experience, share them below in the comments! We are all in the same boat!