Broadening Broadway: In-Theater Broadcasts Bring the Arts to Main Street

Artistic directors say the ability to broadcast their events in movie theaters is a fantastic way to expose the arts to a wider audience

Last Updated: March 24, 2011 @ 8:10 PM

Revenue from in-theater broadcasting of arts programming spiked 51 percent in the U.S. last year. But that financial gain was not what drew Nicolas Hytner, artistic director of London's National Theatre, to the idea, according to National Theatre Live associate producer Emma Keith.

It was the chance to bring the Theatre's programming to a broader audience.

Hytner became intrigued, Keith explained, after seeing the Metropolitan Opera's in-theater presentations — which, the Met says, were actually inspired by a 2003 David Bowie concert that was transmitted live to movie theaters via satellite. (In fact, Hytner directed one of the Met's productions this season.)

"He thought it'd be interesting to see if we could try something as an experiment, as a way of widening access to the work that the National puts on.

"So we started with 'Phèdre,' which Nicolas directed with Helen Mirren (right), and the broadcast was seen by 50,000 people worldwide," Keith explains. "That was as many as had seen it during its entire run in the theater."

Both Keith and Chris Ayzoukian, director of special projects for the L.A. Philharmonic, say bringing cameras into a theatrical or orchestral experience is a concern for their organizations. (LA Phil performances are shot with as many as 14 cameras.)

"It's always a concern when we have to put cameras in a concert hall," said Ayzoukian, "and we thought a lot about it in this case because we were impacting our subscription audience. But we tried to obtain the best creative experience and be the least intrusive we possibly could be. We felt we have a unique opportunity here, with a unique musical director, and we shouldn't pass it up."

The bottom line, say the arts organizations, is that you can't ignore an opportunity to reach new patrons any way you can get to them. Through these programs, they have been finding a new audience in suburban multiplexes rather than downtown symphony halls.

"For an organization like ours, you have to find a special way to cut through the noise," said Ayzoukian. "To do that, you have to go out to the audience, instead of asking the audience to come into the concert hall for the first time."