So…where’s my virtual theatre?

It’s weird…I’ve been thinking about this for years, but I’ve still yet to see it. Maybe the tech isn’t there yet. But….

We have all these wonderful small theatres, scattered from Portland to Cairo, Mumbai to Osaka, doing scrappy, crazy new work, and fighting to pull in, say, 100 people a night. Virtual reality kind of raised its weird, pseudo-immersive head for awhile, got everyone excited, then…faded away. So…what?

So, wouldn’t it be great if you could set up a multiple camera rig, shoot small plays completely live, and sell tickets for viewers through the Internet? Not for a tape of something (or a clip on youtube), but a piece that viewers can only see live, streaming, as it happens, and, in doing so, essentially widen edgy theatre’s breadth?

I mean, they have deals where, you know, Royal Shakespeare or symphony performances are shown in movie houses. But I’m thinking the equivalent of Netflix streaming, except it has to happen live. It wouldn’t be the same experience as sitting in a theatre, of course, with an actor practically sweating on you. But what an intriguing idea for taking, say, something completely experimental, and extending it’s range far beyond some tiny theatre tucked into some industrial wasteland, where you have to beg all your friends to venture into the night. And then you get killed by an ice storm.

I suppose it’s the equivalent of “where’s my flying car”…but the idea still fascinates me. Out of all the people the Internet can reach, it seems like there must be a way to pull in more than…100 folks a night. And scale the ticket price down to a level where someone (or a couple thousand someones) might pony up a couple bucks simply out of curiosity. As it is, little theatres often gamble with sliding scale just to get bodies in the seats. You figure out the price point for renting the gear, achieving the bandwidth, and see if there’s a point where, hell, a viewer pays $2 or $3 bucks to participate in something that will never happen again the same way…which is part of theatre’s magic. I mean, just between Facebook and Twitter, how many potenital viewers could you reach?

Eh…whatever. I’m out of the producing biz these days anyway, focusing on writing plays, but that “virtual theatre” idea has haunted me for a decade or more. So…here I am, throwing it out for…whatever reason. I guess because it’s been bugging me. It’s probably stupid and impossible and all that…but working insanely hard for nothing to create an evening of…experience…of something that can only happen once…is that any less stupid or impossible?

It sure is fun, or else we wouldn’t keep doing it.

About Steve Patterson

Steve Patterson has written over 50 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other U.S. cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His works include: Waiting on Sean Flynn, Next of Kin, Farmhouse, Malaria, Shelter, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Bluer Than Midnight, Bombardment, Dead of Winter, and Delusion of Darkness. In 2006, his bittersweet Lost Wavelengths was a mainstage selection at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West festival, and, in 2008, won the Oregon Book Award (he also was an OBA finalist in 1992 and 2002). In 1997, he won the inaugural Portland Civic Theatre Guild Fellowship for his play Turquoise and Obsidian. View all posts by Steve Patterson

2 responses to “So…where’s my virtual theatre?

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