As a theatre artist or teacher, the prospect of moving theatre online can be daunting. But any theatre artist knows that ingenuity and creative problem solving is the name of the game, a concept made only more vital in this extraordinary time.
We talked to theatrical video guru Jim Glaub about the wild new world of online theatre to answer some of the most common questions and learn some best practices for producing theatre online.
Don’t be scared.
Though producing online theatre means many theatre teachers are having to learn new skills like video editing, Glaub says that other elements actually take a load off teachers’ shoulders.
“Theatre teachers already had to know about costumes, lighting sets, painting, building, coordination, and collaboration, but what’s happening with this transition is that many of those things have been put into the hands of the students or actors that are involved in the production. If you’re not doing this together on location, your students become in charge of localized props and localized sets. They essentially become mini production houses. This really frees teachers up to be able to learn newly required skill sets like editing and audio.”
Less is more.
To Glaub, the biggest learning curve for this process is throwing out our typical ideas about performance size, designed to reach from the stage to the last row of the audience.
“There’s a level of live musical theatre where it’s big and lots of projection—all of the things we’ve been taught from the beginning. This new world is more in the world of film production where it’s far more intimate and becomes more about the subtle glance. Suddenly we can play with breathiness, and actual whispers.”
But this lesson might be more important for teachers than for students.
“This generation already has such familiarity with this. They’re used to posting videos to TikTok and Instagram and a lot of them have a deep understanding of YouTube videos and how they’re made and even how they can do it themselves, so that learning curve is not so much about them. For teachers, it’s about getting them to understand the digital and virtual world, and how to keep an audience engaged in it.”
Live or pre-recorded?
Though it might feel antithetical to those used to producing for live theatre, Glaub recommends pre-recording streamed performances in almost every situation.
“It’s really almost impossible to do these things live because of the WiFi latency. There’s always going to be a delay, which can be between a quarter of a second to as much as three full seconds, which can really mess up an acting beat.”
Capturing performances in advance frees you from being at the mercy of your students’ WiFi and Internet speeds and prevents things like storms from ruining the performance.
What software do you need?
Glaub says producing online theatre is possible irrespective of your level of experience, with software options out there perfect for a range of budgets and skill levels.
“I’ve been using Zoom or Google Hangouts as the rehearsal room, and then when I’m ready to capture the performance, I use them as a teleprompter—a way for people to connect in the room but also work on the script and work in person in their own capacity.”
Once the performances have been captured, it’s time for editing.
“You really want the audio to sound amazing and then lay down the visual, much like film production. Depending on your skill with audio editing, you can use software as light as GarageBand to as pro as Logic.
“And editing software is the same way. Teachers new to editing can use iMovie or any free software they find online, and if they want to go more professional, I’d suggest Adobe Premiere or Final Cut Pro.”
The student toolkit
Glaub’s best case scenario would include student actors having a nice camera with a good lens, a tripod, a three-point lighting system with lights on both sides and in front of the actor, and a good microphone that they can plug into their phone or computer.
But we all know that students often don’t have the budget for this elaborate of a setup. Luckily, there’s lots of tips and tricks that help achieve similar results with minimal to no financial investment.
“A student might not have an elaborate lighting setup, but they can collect regular lamps from around the house. They can prop up their smartphone on a bookcase. It’s all about being creative and innovative with what you need, all while knowing that audio, picture, and sound are very important.”
Organization is key.
Glaub is a big believer in using digital tools to make things go faster and easier.
“You have to be really organized with your files, and I recommend getting familiar with cloud storage options like Dropbox and Google Drive. You also have to be really meticulous about capture and audio schedules because all your pieces are more disparate. It takes a different level of organization.”
Digital theatre gives actors a great skill set.
Pandemic or not, Glaub has been a believer in working with digital tools in theatre for many years.
“For actors to truly understand the digital world and how to do this stuff themselves just makes them better creators. Actors are in a phase now where they’re becoming more than just actors. They’re creatives. They’re visionaries. They are their own makers. This is a perfect way to learn about that.”
Digital theatre isn’t going anywhere.
For both theatre education and the professional world, Glaub thinks some version of this new reality will stick around after this health crisis has passed.
“I think it’s going to be a really great way to test new plays and musicals. It’s incredibly cheaper to do it this way than in a live workshop, especially on the Broadway level. It’s a really easy way to get everyone together regardless of their schedule and location—no more flying in a bunch of people when you need them.
“It’s never going to replace live theatre, and it’s never going to replace film. It’s a new genre. It’s a new way of being able to present work.”
Glaub will be covering this topic more fully later this month when he gives his workshop on Creating Online Student Shows, part of Broadway Teaching Group’s Digital Theatre Back to School series scheduled for September 12, 13, and 20. For more information and to register, visit BroadwayTeachingGroup.com.