Is the future of theatre digital?

New technologies are increasingly used to enhance live performances – but can they ever replicate the real thing? Playwright Lolita Chakrabarti, Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah and actor Adrian Lester discuss the role of digital in a post-Covid world

While some areas of the creative industries were already well versed in adopting and adapting to emerging technologies pre-coronavirus, much of the theatre world is reliant on the same revenue model they have been using for the last 500 years: bums on seats. In 2018 alone, 34 million people in the UK went to theatre shows – roughly the same number as those who attended Premier League and English Football League matches during the same period. Unsurprisingly, the UK government’s decision to introduce a nationwide lockdown is having an unprecedented impact on the performing arts.

Over the last couple of months there has been much discussion about the role of government subsidies, private philanthropy and sponsorship fees in keeping theatre afloat. At the same time, people’s appetite for live performance hasn’t gone anywhere in the midst of the pandemic, with tens of millions of people around the world tuning into theatre productions during lockdown.

From a performance of Draw Me Close. Image @ Ellie Kurttz

So could the pandemic also be an opportunity to invest in innovative new ideas and technologies that reinvigorate the performing arts? This was the topic of discussion on a recent panel talk at tech festival CogX 2020, which brought together playwright and actress Lolita Chakrabarti, Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah and actor and director Adrian Lester OBE to debate the digital future of theatre.