We Need to Talk About Elitism in Theatre

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There is a rift within the theatre community and money is the reason.

During my first year of university, I was watching Les Misérables (2012) with my friends. One of my friends, who lives near London and frequently goes to West End shows, declared that the film just wasn’t as good as the live show, therefore, it was not worth our time.

In the ensuing argument, I realised that there are two kinds of theatre-goers; people who believe that theatre is an event (and something that is only accessible on special occasions, and sometimes not even then), and people who can afford to go more regularly, and get to experience the wide range of shows available.

There is a prestige embedded in West End and Broadway shows, but this results in an element of exclusivity and classism. Even though times are changing and accessibility is a major buzzword in industry at the moment, being accessible doesn’t seem to apply to visitors going to see the shows. Broadway made steps towards this when for Rent ‘Rush Seat’ Sunday morning queues were introduced over twenty years ago, providing significantly cheaper tickets – however you still have to be in New York for this bargain.

Hamilton brought attention to people of colour in modern theatre, whilst the Deaf West Theatre production of Spring Awakening focused on disability within the arts community. However, shows remain largely unreachable to those who don’t have upwards of £40 to spend on a ticket– not including travel of course. Even though shows tour around the country, for people like me who live outside of major cities, there is still a large expense involved in getting to the venue. This stops many people who would like to see the show from going because they simply cannot afford it.

However, I find it difficult to believe in a reality where the theatre is cheaper. A lot of work goes into them, from the cast to the technical support, and from costuming to actually keeping the lights on. What I am suggesting is that theatres compromise, modernising the viewing experience by film their run in order to be streamed to audiences around the world. We could be able to see filmed versions of our favourite stage shows whilst paying a fraction of the original price!

Of course, places like ABC, and National Theatre Live, regularly provide this kind of service. However, it is largely for educational purposes, since most of their shows are Shakespeare. As well as this, some musicals (such as Six) have sections in which you are allowed, and even encouraged, to film. However, these kind of situations are a rarity, and are largely used for promotional purposes.

Imagine a world in which you could watch your favourite theatre show, professionally recorded, on Netflix, and not an illegally recorded bootleg. DVDs didn’t stop people from going to the cinema, and so I strongly believe that filming in the theatre would not stop people from going to shows, because those who can afford it will still go for the atmosphere. To some extent, my friend was correct: the film versions are not the same as the live shows. For a lot of people, however, they are all we have. Such a simple thing as filming stage shows becoming the norm would go a long way to ending the elitism within theatre, and possibly save us from having to see things like the Cats (2019) trailer ever again.

Words by Danni Scott

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