The streaming theatre scene is still pretty young, and the vast majority of productions appear on our stages to never be seen again. Now Australian Theatre Live has launched a streaming service, giving everyone access to their library of 18 shows (and growing) that includes some Australian classics – it’s only the beginning and it’s a good start.
There are a few options for streaming theatre these days. From the odd production on the major services like Disney+ and Netflix (Diana: The Musical!), to the bespoke channels like Marquee TV and NTLive At Home, but the whole category is still in its early stages. Now Australian Theatre Live fills a gap in the market by bringing local productions to a wider audience.
I was gifted a subscription to review the service and happily sat down to catch up on some Australian productions I had missed. The shows on the service vary from acclaimed fringe productions to expansive mainstage shows and festival highlights. At the moment productions Sydney Theatre Company, Griffin Theatre Company, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Sydney Festival, Kings Cross Theatre, the Old Fitz and more are all present on the service.
On the technical side, the interface was beautifully smooth to use (I have a solid NBN connection at home). With a bit of technical wizardry (i.e. using a search engine and downloading an app) I managed to stream from my laptop to my big TV to watch from the comfort of the sofa – and it looked great!
The service lets you build a watchlist which I loaded up with a series of shows I was keen to catch – including the brilliant 2017 revival of Michael Gow’s Away, Louis Nowra’s This Much Is True, David Williamson’s Emerald City and Queensland Theatre’s recent production of Taming of the Shrew, plus some shows from Sydney Festival and some editions of The Wharf Review.
It’s great to see Australian plays being captured for the future like this, and if the pandemic has taught theatres anything it’s highlighted the value of filming stage productions as alternative revenue streams. We need more great theatre to be filmed! If Sydney Theatre Company’s The Picture of Dorian Gray can come back for ANOTHER run, after a successful tour, surely there’s value to be had in filming it for posterity and international release, especially as the technical requirement of the production make touring further financially prohibitive.
So is Australian Theatre Live worth your cash? While the cost ($7.99 per month or $74.99 per year, with your first week free) looks high compared to the vast libraries of mainstream streamers, it’s cheaper than other arts streaming services ($139.99 p/yr for Marquee TV, $189.99 p/yr for NTLive At Home). And when you compare it to the price of live theatre it’s a bargain (it’s less than the price of a single ticket to one of our mainstage companies to get a year’s worth of access). New shows are being added every 4-6 weeks but honestly, the production of Away is basically worth it on its own – one of the best productions I’ve seen in years.
It’s exciting to see Australian theatre move into the digital space and we need more of it, a lot more of it. Digital theatre is not only a convenience for us metropolitan theatre-lovers, but an important access point for those further away or with accessibility issues. Bring it on. Now excuse me as I start streaming another show…