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Over half of UK theatres have now abandoned digital performances

When the pandemic hit, theatres were forced to move online, opening up new experiences for many people who would not normally visit playhouses and show venues.

Living rooms around the globe suddenly became the upper circle for The Old Vic, with stars such as Richard Armitage performing The Crucible for brand new audiences,

However, as auditoriums now begin to welcome back live crowds, digital performances have more than halved – once again putting stage shows out of reach of many vulnerable, disabled and housebound people.

Research by Loughborough University and the University of Kent found that 71 (56%) of the 126 theatres that had at least one online production in the first 18-months of the pandemic have none scheduled for the autumn season.

It means that just 60 of the UK’s 224 theatres will live stream performances.

Staff from 40 venues were interviewed about the reasons for ditching their digital programme.

The reasons they gave included:

  • Money
  • Not enough time and energy to initiate digital projects
  • A tendency to default back to their traditional work of filling venues (for example, one recent interviewee said: “We need a good reason to do a digital performance”)
  • A residual sense that digital is an optional extra (and an inferior alternative) to live activities
  • A lack of clarity about how to best to engage with digital (another recent interviewee said: “We haven’t seen a sustainable model for digital performances, beyond the National Theatre’s famous faces”

Dr Adrian Leguina, of Loughborough’s School of Social Sciences and Humanities, said: “Theatres appear to be reluctant to keep productions online because, firstly, they won’t make as much money from digital performances as they would from live shows.

“And secondly, the funding available to producers for online plays and events is very difficult to secure, so there is little economic motivation to invest in a digital future.

“The problem is, many remote and disabled audiences have found the new online format very appealing because of the new experiences it has enabled them to enjoy.

“To suddenly axe more than half of the entertainment available to them is a real loss.

“The question we must answer now is what are the implications for remote, disabled, vulnerable and elderly audience members who feel that going to theatre is not for them?”

“He added: “Despite proving its potential for success over the past 19 months, using digital media to make arts and culture more accessible hasn’t seen the investment it needs.

“To truly make the theatre experience available to everybody, funders and arts organisations must be willing to invest in digital development or many of the advances that were made during the pandemic will be lost.”

The research was carried out as a part of a 12-month Arts and Humanities Research Council project, ‘Digital Access to Arts and Culture Beyond COVID-19’, led by Dr Leguina (Loughborough University) and Dr Richard Misek (University of Kent).

ENDS

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: 21/218

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2021 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year for Sport by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in The UK Complete University Guide 2022, and 10th in both the Guardian University League Table 2022 and the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.

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