NT Live must not become a “substitute” for theatregoing – Stephen Joseph Theatre executive

Stephen Joseph Theatre.
Stephen Joseph Theatre.
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Stephen Wood, the executive director of the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, has warned that the National Theatre’s NT Live initiative must never become a “substitute” for actual theatregoing.

Wood, who worked as head of press at the National in the 80s, has labelled the screenings “weird”, adding: “They are neither theatre nor film, but something in between. That’s not to say they are not valid, it’s just that they are a very odd thing.”

The NT Live initiative, which sees theatre productions screened live to venues around the UK, is available at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. Later this month, the Donmar Warehouse’s production of Coriolanus will be shown at the theatre.

Although Wood recognises the value of the screenings, he is keen to protect audience attendances for the theatre’s own productions.

He acknowledged that NT Live is a “fantastic thing” in allowing people to access shows they might not be able to otherwise see, calling it a “huge plus” that the screenings are cheaper than a trip to London to see a play.

However, he said: “But it is not the same experience as being in the theatre. When you are sitting in the room where a performance is happening, every single person has a unique ‘shot’ or take of the performance. In this case, the shot that everyone sees is exactly the same – and it is the one chosen by the camera director.”

Wood told the Yorkshire Post that the industry has to be “careful that we don’t arrive at a situation where this type of thing is what people’s only experience of live theatre really is”.

“It must not ever become a substitute,” he said.

The National declined to comment.


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  1. For those of us in the US, who would otherwise never have any chance at all to see the shows (and for those who simply cannot afford a theatre ticket), NT Live is a wonderful resource. It is a “substitute” for theatre in the way that a lifeboat is a “substitute” for a sinking ship–not ideal, but deeply appreciated.

  2. As far as I can tell, the NT Live project has never been promoted as a replacement or substitute for attending live theatre. It serves as a way to open access to work for viewers who would otherwise not have a chance to see it.

    For those of us in other countries, it is an invaluable peek at what NT can do. For those who can’t attend NT due to pricing or scheduling, it’s a godsend.

    The project also serves as advertising for the thrill of live theatre everywhere–it highlights the excitement of being in the room, breathing the same air as the actors, the audience, the people living that story in the moment. As well done as the NT Live productions are, they remind us that it’s only a record of the performance. That idea is built into the mission statement for the project.

    Instead of panicking and assuming the worst, let’s embrace the idea and reach out to new audiences where they live. Let’s use these events to highlight the host theatre’s own work as well, to remind audiences that they can have the experience of live theatre wherever they may be, and this is the place for it. That generosity of spirit will appeal to audiences much more than a scolding about how this must never replace live theatre.

  3. As a loyal National Theatre-goer for many years, before moving to the US, the NT Live broadcasts have been a wonderful reconnection to my theatre roots. When I come out of one of the exceptional productions on screen I feel inspired to see MORE theatre, even non-NT shows, not less. Yes, it is less of a risk as NT shows are almost uniformly excellent, and the ticket price makes it more ok if the quality is ever less than amazing. Perhaps ‘live’ theatre could take a cue from that. I bet for every person who says “I’m not going to a live theatre show anymore because these NT Live movies are all I need” I bet there are two or three who will decide to expose themselves to theatre more regularly.

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