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How Do You Engage The Audience In A Virtual Theatre Space?

The past year, theatremakers the world over, us included, have been experimenting with online platforms to deliver theatre to audiences from the safety of their own homes. The pandemic forced us all to evolve from live, physical theatre into virtual theatre on our screens and we winged every step of the way.

During our latest Krispy Talk, however, our guest — Adam Marple — brought up an interesting point. He posited that we reconsider the definition of virtual theatre. Is it just physical theatre, filmed? Theatre performed live online? Cuz it is not just the medium of distribution that is different. What differs is also the space that each individual actor is in, as well as the space that each individual audience member is in. The sensory experience isn’t shared, the communal aspect eradicated, and even more so the suspension of disbelief.

A few things that didn’t work from an audience member’s point of view included online performances that treated the audience as if it were a live performance, complete with actors yelling at the camera and trying not to break the fourth wall. Virtual backgrounds or digital overlays that absolutely none of the actors had the technology to execute well enough to not make it look more fake, and absolutely no acknowledgment of the audience.

We’d be lying if we didn’t admit to having done at least one of the list of very valid points in the past, so how then should we look at the virtual theatre space, and what are some ideas to jump off from with regards to engaging our audience in a virtual theatre space?

Adam answers those questions in this episode of The Theatre of Others podcast, but here are some insights we have gleaned to give you a preview of the eye-opening discussion that takes place.

What is a ‘virtual theatre space’?

You could say Zoom or any online streaming platform but a virtual theatre space is also a play that you’re reading. Why? It is happening in your imagination. A virtual theatre space is any space that is not a physical space. It will always remain virtual until something is physically performed or acted out or said in that space. On that tangent, the virtual theatre space is something we have worked with for the longest time. It is, in fact, a medium that we can stop treating as strange and new.

How do we engage the audience in a virtual theatre space?

Put aside the aspects of live, physical theatre that are unavailable to us with live video and online streaming platforms and take a look at what is available.

We have better control of their auditory experience, we can take advantage of the fact that we are in their screens and utilise the intimacy, we can explore using the chat functions to engage the audience, or explore the uses of the depth in an actor’s space. This one’s our favorite insight: How about we acknowledge the audience and invite them to prepare something to watch the play with, like a warm beverage, and then include that in the play. That creates a connection with your audience. That’s how they know that you know they’re watching, and that reminds them that they have a part to play in the performance.

This episode of their podcast covers lots more within this topic itself, and stopping at this article in no way does Adam’s insights justice. So, watch our Krispy Talk with Adam Marple, and afterward, listen to this episode of The Theatre of Others podcast.

We hope this article has inspired you to explore the virtual theatre space from a different standpoint and we look forward to the exciting new performances that will be birthed from this!

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