James Haddrell: Celebrating theatre

Regular readers will know that I have been reflecting over the past few weeks on the explosion of free theatre currently available to watch online.

James Haddrell, artistic and executive director of Greenwich Theatre

From the starriest large-scale productions from the National Theatre’s NT Live cinema collection (next week sees the Young Vic production of A Streetcar Named Desire starring Gillian Anderson) to the smallest shows from the London fringe, audiences who are missing the theatre can get their fix for free online.

However, the more I think about it, and the more of these shows that I watch, the less it feels like theatre. It’s certainly a celebration of theatre, it’s a chance to see the sort of
thing we’re all missing at the moment and anticipate a return, but it’s not theatre.

Theatre happens live and audiences watch, hearing the words as they’re spoken.

Therefore, while we too are streaming some of our favourite shows of the past few years as part of Greenwich Connects, our programme of online engagement for artists and audiences, we are starting to explore ways to return the live experience to our viewers.

Next Sunday, Greenwich Theatre should have hosted an exciting live event to celebrate Bob Dylan, the first songwriter to win a Nobel Prize for Literature. Harvard rofessor Richard F. Thomas, author of Why Dylan Matters (a Guardian and Independent Best Music Book of 2017), was set to make a rare UK appearance to discuss Dylan’s work, presented in celebration of the singer-songwriter’s 79th birthday.

We may not now be able to offer that, but instead Professor Thomas will give a live
interview to an exclusive online audience. Anyone who would like to attend the interview, which will be held using Zoom and will feature a Q&A, should email boxoffice@greenwichtheatre.org.uk for a link to access the event online.

Tackling a desire for live performance in a different way, we have also teamed up with record-breaking beatboxer SK Shlomo for Homeskool Beatbox Adventures, a live -streamed interactive show empowering kids and their families to find their true voices and create their own music.

With the performances live-streamed on the Greenwich Theatre facebook page at 2pm every Thursday, families around the world will unite online to learn new vocal skills from SK Shlomo, the acclaimed world-champion beatboxer who has collaborated with Bjork, Ed Sheeran and Lily Allen, played at Glastonbury and broken world records with his jaw-dropping vocal gymnastics.

Each week, SK Shlomo will set families creative challenges to raise money by sharing performance videos of their new skills using the hashtag #beatboxadventures.

Over the next five weeks, with the help of weekly special guests including Bastille, KT Tunstall, Bill Bailey, Basement Jaxx, Jason Mraz and BBC Radio 1’s Dr Rahda, the Homeskool Beatbox Adventures community will create an anthem of their own, with its own music video featuring hundreds of families beatboxing and performing together.

For us this is just the start of a programme of truly live performance for the coming months.

Like countless others I will still be logging on to watch the huge range of recorded shows being streamed, but Greenwich Theatre’s virtual audiences will increasingly be given the chance to see genuine acts of theatre, presented and broadcast in real time, maintaining the true spirit of what theatre is all about.

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