Are Theatre, TV & Cinema Converging?
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.