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Netflix unveils plans to adapt theatre for on-demand platform

Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale and Jeremy Jordan in American Son at Booth Theatre, New York. Photo: Peter Cunningham Kerry Washington, Steven Pasquale and Jeremy Jordan in American Son at Booth Theatre, New York. Photo: Peter Cunningham
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Netflix is exploring a foray into filmed theatre productions, as it announces it will adapt its first stage play for the platform this year.

The move may signal a wider expansion by the streaming giant into capturing theatre for the small screen, which experts say could see it capitalise on a demand for more accessible ways to watch live performance.

Netflix is producing a specially created version of the Broadway play American Son, which its subscribers across the globe will be able to stream.

The play finished its run at the Booth Theatre in New York last week. It has not been captured live but will be reproduced as a “movie/play hybrid”, according to its star Kerry Washington.

American Son starring Kerry Washington review at Booth Theatre, New York – ‘gripping and impassioned’

The original cast, which also includes Steven Pasquale, will reunite with the play’s director Kenny Leon when production begins in New York next month.

Until now, Netflix’s live content has been mostly limited to comedy, however the company also recorded Bruce Springsteen’s Broadway show for streaming last year.

Netflix declined to say whether it had plans to develop other theatre productions in the US, or in the UK.

Existing companies operating in this area in the UK include Digital Theatre, which captures live theatre to stream on a dedicated subscription-based platform, while a number of venues broadcast performances live to cinemas, including the Royal Opera House and the National Theatre, through NT Live.

Producer David Sabel, who founded NT Live, said he welcomed Netflix’s exploration into this area – particularly around the idea of adapting live event capture for audiences at home – and said he viewed it as a “new variation on existing forms”.

“The growth of event cinema has shown there is a huge appetite for people to be able to see this work if they can’t physically get there, or it’s sold out, or they can’t afford it.

“My feeling when we launched NT Live was that more is more. A great experience of watching a piece of theatre in the cinema is never going to replace the real thing, but in fact it encourages you to go,” Sabel said.

He added that Netflix’s ability to match viewers’ interests with relevant content could increase the profile of filmed theatre productions, but could also mean they are more easily discoverable.

“One of the things that’s hard about these events is that you never have film-style marketing budgets to make sure that people are aware of them. I think the appetite and the audience is there, but often raising the awareness is harder,” he said.

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