Research is being carried out to help small and mid-sized theatre companies monetise online work and ensure actors get paid.
The research, conducted by the University of Exeter, will investigate whether audiences are willing to pay for remote performances, and how work can be taken online and paid for.
According to the university, research will be “conducted rapidly” so the findings are reported and can be of use before the government’s furlough scheme ends later this year. Many theatres and theatre organisations have warned that once the scheme ends in October, they will have no option but to cut jobs.
The research, by Pascale Aebischer and Rachael Nicholas from the University of Exeter, is being carried out in partnership with Creation Theatre in Oxford, and is funded by UK Research and Innovation.
In particular, it will focus on how Creation Theatre put on an interactive live production of The Tempest, which is reported to have pulled in about 1,500 paying viewers from around the world.
Aebischer will examine Creation Theatre’s business model as an example of “successful digital transformation for small and medium-sized theatres”.
She will also investigate how theatres can charge audiences for online performances so actors continue to get Equity pay.
Aebischer will develop recommendations to protect actors working at home, including how to avoid excluding those with caring responsibilities who may find it hard to work uninterrupted.
She said: “We need to ensure actors’ labour is valued and that the move to working online doesn’t mean they don’t get paid. It is essential to find a business model that works and includes the audience paying for what they see. If we don’t fix this problem, great damage will be done to the theatre industry.”
She added: “I hope this research will help save jobs and help those working to save this important industry.”
As part of the study, staff at Creation Theatre will restage The Tempest, with the audience questioned by a research team on their experience of viewing theatre online and whether this taught them digital skills they didn’t have before. They will also be asked if the show helped them feel less isolated and if it made them feel part of a community.
Aebischer said; “The pandemic has shown us that the traditional geographical borders that affect regional theatre may not matter anymore. I’m interested to see what led to the success of the Creation Theatre show, and how other theatres might be able to achieve the same success. They transformed their entire operation to work in a distanced way in a very short period of time.”
She added: “I hope this research will offer hope and practical knowledge to regional theatres, which are one of the economy’s most vulnerable sectors."