Are Theatre, TV & Cinema Converging?

Media

With so much entertainment readily available (I speak as one whose first family television had two channels) it’s hard for any new film, game, play or programme to get enough traction to draw in large audiences. Each terrestrial network has its own repertory company – the BBC’s is so limited that you can track performers crossing from one show to another through the week – just as theatres have their stock productions, and film studios are now so heavily locked into brands that they can be traded on the value of their IPs.

When there’s so much choice it’s good to specialise.

But with the news that Hollywood is sinking fast in terms of profitability, convergence now seems on the cards. Productions are so expensive that they can’t risk failure. When the trailer for ‘Cats’ dropped last month to cries of horror the studio must have gone into a tailspin – but wait, didn’t exactly the same thing happen with ‘The Greatest Showman’? Following Disney’s creatively bankrupt plan to ‘reimagine’ its cartoon back-catalogue as live action films, it’s been announced that ‘Home Alone’ will kick off a series of remakes as studios rifle through their past successes looking for sure-fire nostalgia fixes.

Theatre and cinema share more and more in common. Plays open territory by territory now, just like films, and even play in cinemas, plus a hit play can be more profitable than a film because it runs in many locations forever. Unlike films, plays can be propped up by all kinds of tricks – getting the show onto a school curriculum (like ‘Blood Brothers’) can keep it alive for decades, or throwing pots of money at it can keep it in the public eye. Many of our shows are now funded by US companies with deep pockets. In the case of ‘The Book of Mormon’, a moderately amusing piece that should have run for around three months, it’s allegedly being propped up with the support of the Mormon church.

So, hit TV shows, games, plays and films are now massively budgeted, and when the stakes get higher the risks taken diminish. We’re now in a situation similar to that of movies in the great depression; they’re safe and upbeat and take troubled minds out of themselves.

Which leaves books – I’m prejudiced, of course, but literature is possibly the last unspoiled area of innovation. While we may never see a return to the pure experimentalism of the 1960s, it’s still possible to find truly fresh new writing. Books are cheap. They don’t need three set-top boxes to make them work. But they do require a machine to translate the signal – your brain. And right now, that might be the one thing nobody wants to use.

9 comments on “Are Theatre, TV & Cinema Converging?”

  1. Brooke says:

    Yes, it’s possible to find fresh new writing– if you undertake a long hard tramp through dense jungle w. natives (book critics, literary prize committees, etc.) aiming poisoned arrows at you. E.G. Book Critic: “And it is told in beautifully realized voices, rolling out with precision…stream-of-consciousness drawl.” Me (after slogging away): Twitter feed non-sense and Walt Whitman did it better. Sorry, cannot share your faith/conviction of unspoiled area of innovation.

  2. Roger says:

    Evelyn Waugh made a similar point about film and books. After he’d seen a film of “The Great Gatsby” he wrote that “the enormously expensive apparatus of the film studio can produce nothing as valuable as can one half-tipsy Yank with a typewriter.”

  3. Dave Kearns says:

    But how do you differentiate a book series from a film series? Whether it’s Bryant & May or The Avengers both hope for sales at least in part on the audience’s familiarity with the characters as well as what to expect from the plot.

  4. Liz Thompson says:

    As a compulsive, addictive, book buyer and reader, films, dvds, tv series will never replace the joy of imagination taking off as I read descriptions of characters, plots, places etc.

  5. admin says:

    I’m quite unfashionable about this. A story is a story, and I don’t mind which medium it’s told in, although…books are to savor.

  6. kevin says:

    I’m with Brooke regarding the dearth of innovative fiction writing. Most “new” writing is just too pretentious(and bad) to be taken seriously or even at all. Worst, most of these writers don’t seem to even know what a story is let alone possess the ability to tell one with innovation. I am with you though regarding a story being a story. I think some of the most innovative stories being told today come in the graphic novel format.

  7. Brooke says:

    With Kevin on graphic novel format …and innovative writing coming from beyond US/UK.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    Let’s hear it for the translators who make work accessible to the unilingual – on the page, the screen, and the stage.

  9. Ian Luck says:

    I have been reading graphic novels for many years now. Some mainstream, others not so much. I was pleased, several years ago, to hear that Art Spiegelman’s simply astonishing, and utterly heartbreaking ‘MAUS’ was now on the school curriculum. I also adore ‘Love And Rockets’, by Los Bros Hernandez. Completely unclassifiable, but beautifully drawn and written, and sometimes with something pertinent to say, and other times about a world in which nothing happens all the time. Anything by the brilliant Charles Burns is worth a read, too. Alan Moore’s darkly skewed visions are something that I’ll always enjoy, although sometimes, the darkness does close in a bit too tangibly; his ‘Neonomicon’, given to me as a gift by a friend who knew I was a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, is not for the faint hearted. Knowing that Lovecraft greatly disliked anything to do with sex in his writings, and tended to gloss over such things, Moore deliberately went the other way, setting some of the main narrative at a meeting of the Esoteric Order of Dagon, which turns into an orgy, set in an underground pool. I’ll leave it there. Alan Moore’s daughter, Leah, has created some great material, too, usually writing with her husband, John Reppion. The most pleasing one for me, was ‘Albion’, which used characters from British comics of the 1950’s and 1960’s, in a kind of ‘League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ way. If you never read a copy of ‘Whizzer and Chips’, ‘Wizard’, ‘Lion’, ‘The Beezer’, etc., then you will be quite lost. Some of our home grown comic heroes were utterly bizarre, and most, have vanished into the mists of time; Robot Archie: Mytek The Mighty: The Spider: Janus Stark: The Steel Claw: Cursitor Doom: The Iron Teacher: The Black Sapper: Adam Eterno: Grimly Feendish. Look some of these up, and you’ll see how singularly odd they are. And, as I have mentioned before, there was a comic strip in a children’s comic, that starred the real-life Victorian cat-burglar and murderer, Charles Peace. The only American equivalent of that, would be if Charles Manson had appeared on Sesame Street.

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