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Curtains Up Online: The New Theatre Experience

Just as Juliet asked, “What’s in a name?” we now ask, “What’s in a stage?” With COVID reshaping our lives, we’ve swapped theatre seats for couch corners, stage lights for monitor brightness, and live applause for virtual reactions. It’s the era of online theatre performances, and it brings with it a set of new experiences and challenges.

Gone are the days when we rustled playbills in anticipation, the sweet scent of popcorn wafting around us, the resonant echoes of actors rehearsing their lines backstage. The pandemic has forced theatre to take a digital leap. This leap, however, is not a free fall. There are merits and demerits to this new form of performance that are worth exploring.

One of the biggest advantages of the virtual format is its accessibility. No matter where you live, as long as you have an internet connection, you can watch a theatre production from anywhere in the world. A prime example is Shakespeare’s Globe, which offers a rich collection of Shakespeare’s plays online (www.shakespearesglobe.com).

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On the downside, however, the sensory richness of the live theatre experience is, to some extent, compromised. Shakespeare’s renowned line from ‘As You Like It’, “All the world’s a stage”, acquires a new meaning in this digital era. Listening to it on a pair of headphones, as opposed to hearing it ring through the open air of an outdoor amphitheater, creates a vastly different emotional impact.

The painting *Actors Before Hamlet* by Władysław Czachórski, ca 1872.
The painting *Actors Before Hamlet* by Władysław Czachórski, ca 1872.

Another downside is the digital divide. While online theatre has made performances more accessible to some, it may be out of reach for those who lack reliable internet access. And then there’s the issue of online fatigue – the strain of staring at screens for prolonged periods can dampen the overall experience.

Yet, online theatre offers a unique opportunity to experience performances in an intimate setting. It encourages us to engage with the art form in a new, personal way. Imagine the soliloquies of Hamlet being whispered into your ears, or the passionate exchanges of Romeo and Juliet unfolding in your living room!

The virtual theatre, like any innovation, has its pros and cons. But the beauty of theatre lies in its ability to adapt and evolve. The magic of storytelling remains the same, whether on a live stage or a digital one. While we anticipate the return of live performances, let’s embrace the silver linings of the online theatre.

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