This will no doubt be the first of many addendums to the Digital Theatre Manifesto I wrote back in January for Intermission Magazine.
Artists, when you are contracted by a festival or a production entity or even an academic institution, to film and stream your work, either live or to be broadcast at a later date – make sure that you get to have some form of approval on the product that will be released to the public. At the very least, demand that you see, in the process of recording, what the material will look like in its digital form. Lighting and sound act completely different in a theatre space than on a device. Producing entities and festivals might argue with time or budget reasons as to why this might not be feasible, so make sure that you ask about this at the very start of the process, before you say yes. Producers, you are doing no one any favours, least of all yourself, if you don’t take the extra time and money to make sure that the work is seen and heard in a professional, high quality manner. The Artist’s should only have to worry about putting the best work forward and not have to shoulder the burden of the quality of dissemination.
Lighting for the stage and the camera are not the same. Camera’s need light, contrast is totally different. Something that might feel ‘too bright’ in the space, might be just right for the camera. If the camera is moving, lighting will need to be adjusted to follow the camera blocking. If the camera is stationary, different lighting choices are required. Don’t light for the space, light for how it will be viewed on the device.
Camera distance and movement:
You have the ability to get into the action, why aren’t you? Again, think beyond the stage, you are not constrained with a live audience seeing any of the tech (and even then), so free the space from the traditional perspective. But, this will affect your lighting and it will also affect…
Oh boy… This has been the biggest issue I’ve seen in the last 4 months of watching shows. Regardless of the size of the room, you either have to mic your performers, or set up an array boundary or hanging mics around the performing area. You can’t simply rely on the tiny mic in the camera or only one in front of the stage. Projecting vocals, while a great skill, sounds like yelling on a computer or TV. If there is a soundtrack, find a balance of live sound while running the recoding direct to the stream. This is more difficult, takes time to mix, and probably the renting of additional equipment, but the alternative is having actors/performers who can’t or can barely be heard. If you make the audience work extra hard to hear your work, maybe you should work just as hard to make sure you can be heard.
This all returns to getting the right people for the job. This is the responsibility of the production entity, festival or academic institution. Get advice from film artists, get tips from sound technicians, bring in an outside-eye… in addition to the usual, very qualified theatre people. It’s a different platform, treat it as such. Good enough, is not good enough anymore. People will tune out.