Leading theatre consultant Ian Stickland has claimed theatregoers should be using phones in the theatre as part of an interactive experience.
The Charcoalblue consultant, who specialises in theatre design and acoustics, said technology should be integrated into performances and warned that the industry was facing a losing battle if it did not respond.
“We are missing the opportunity to create meaningful, personal theatre. It’s a controversial point but we need to think about this. Why don’t we make more performances that are meant to be enjoyed with smartphones?” he told the Theatre 2016 conference.
He added: “Let’s integrate technology into performance. Or, better still, why don’t we find the right technology to allow digital interaction to be combined with the wonderful interaction that we all love about theatre? If we don’t embrace this, theatre will be fighting culture and there will only be one winner.”
Stickland was speaking ahead of a panel at Theatre 2016 that explored whether technology was an opportunity or threat.
On this panel, Mary Swan, from Proteus Theatre Company, warned that live-streaming of theatre was a threat to touring companies such as hers.
She said venues run by local authorities rather than artistic leaders were seeing screenings of theatre as a “replacement” to theatre itself.
“It’s no good saying, ‘It’s not happening’, as it is happening,” she said.
On the panel, National Theatre Live head of broadcast Emma Keith said technology allowed theatre to increase access.
“It should not be seen as just a way to distribute content. It should be integrated into the art form itself,” she said.
She said audiences wanted “experiences on their own terms”.
“The opportunity is to respond to that in different and interesting ways,” she added.
Theatre lawyer Neil Adleman agreed, and said live-streaming was already “old-fashioned”.
“The vast majority of what we have at the moment is linear – delivering to audiences watching it on a screen designed to replicate what an audience get in the theatre. The real opportunities and next steps are about interactivity – an experience which is not just about trying to slavishly recreate what we get in the theatre, when that is a second-best experience to being in a theatre itself,” he said.
At the conference, a motion was put forward that said: “Conference is excited by and wants to embrace digital innovation in all its forms whilst ensuring high-quality live experiences are available and affordable to all.”
The motion was not carried, as delegates disliked the words “in all its forms”. Had the motion not included those words, the motion would have been passed.