The lockouts have lowered the curtain on live performances, but savvy actors from the Ballarat National Theater have found new ways to continue their productions.
- Technology has helped regional theater companies reach new audiences through podcasts
- The Ballarat National Theater has found success online performing audio dramatized versions of popular books
- Academic says investment is needed to support struggling theater industry
Unable to have a live audience or even muster a cast to film a performance, the organization shifted to audio production, turning Jane Austen’s beloved tome, Pride and Prejudice, into a podcast.
The results were a hit and earned the non-profit theater company an award earlier this year from the world’s leading digital arts organization, the Webby Awards.
Success spurred them on, with the group following their version of Pride and Prejudice with a production of JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, which features more than 20 comedians from across the country, contributing via Zoom.
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Directed by first-time directors Marli Van Der Bilj, Elizabeth Bradford and Olivia French, the recent adaptation of the children’s classic turned out to be another hit.
“The response we have received shows that there is considerable interest and growing demand for projects of this type,” said the directors.
The audio piece has been listened to more than 8,000 times via various podcasting platforms since April, the equivalent of around 70 shows at full capacity at Ballarat’s Courthouse Theater on the Federation University campus in the heart of the city.
“The Barrie language is beautiful and the connection to text through storytelling in our production is as empowering as it is an escape,” the directors of Peter Pan told ABC Ballarat.
The directors said that while the effects of foreclosure on their work were at times demoralizing, the production of this audiobook proved that performing artists can continue to create engaging work.
Bulletproof online theater
Ballarat National Theater President Liana Skewes said attempting to stage live theater during the pandemic meant performance plans were often marked with an asterisk.
Skewes said the audience’s comments were that the podcasts made them feel “less lonely” during tough times, which was one of the goals of the productions.
“Pride and Prejudice has made a lot of progress here and after Peter Pan we have three more works to do in this format,” she said.
Professor Kim Durban, a lecturer in performing arts at Federation University, explained that the “democratic participation” of an online audio production meant that these types of productions could pave the way for the industry.
“Many companies and artists have turned to online and virtual resources in order to keep their art alive, by producing readings,” said Dr Durban.
While admitting that nothing can replace live theatrical performance, she said that “the whole area of customizing the work for a wider audience needs attention and investment.”