Whilst the Internet has changed our relationship as an audience with theatre, it is difficult to say outright that the Internet has destroyed live theatre. It has shaped theatre as a medium and is forcing live theatre to adapt to audiences with changing ideas of entertainment and shorter attention spans, but it is also providing new opportunities and media for theatre to make use of. The Internet has not destroyed live theatre, but theatre must adapt to the Internet, and do so for the better.
The Internet has changed both live theatre itself as a format and us as audiences. Audiences have different expectations of their entertainment in the age of the internet. Entertainment is now fast, immediately compelling and constantly available. Live theatre is a slower, less readily available format. It's harder to keep audiences with a smaller attention span focused. It is also hard to keep a show interesting to viewers who can read reviews and spoilers beforehand - they are likely to be pre-shaped by other's experiences shared online.
Live theatre itself has also changed. The Internet is not only competition; it is an opportunity. Live theatre can use Internet-provided media and incorporate it into a show. The Internet is an incredibly varied source of information. It also provides opportunities for collaboration and connection, and makes it possible for playwrights and directors to learn from each other and work with one another far more broadly and intensely than was possible before the Internet age. Audiences can now be sought and communicated with directly via the Internet, providing incredible new opportunities for communications. Essentially, the Internet can far more effectively and quickly connect theatre with potentially interested audiences than was possible before. Under the right circumstances, the Internet potentially levels the theatrical playing field, making it easier for less well known performances to grow.
The most negative impact the Internet has had on theatre is how much the entertainment industry has changed. Theatre used to be one of the main ways in which people kept themselves entertained - both television and radio entertainment were initially essentially recreations of theatre in a new format. The Internet provides entirely new forms of entertainment such as games and abstract videos, and therefore risks taking attention away from theatre. It has also changed what audiences expect - they want to be entertained well, immediately. Live theatre has to adapt to these changed expectations and distracted audiences. It is increasingly common for audiences to be on their phones during performances. This can be a real challenge for performers.
The Internet provides a wealth of opportunities for live theatre, both for theatre itself as a medium and for connecting to audiences. This is made especially apparent by how many plays are now based around the Internet and Internet culture, turning the challenges of the Internet into a strength and an artistic curiosity.
has the Internet destroyed live theatre? It may have had the potential to destroy live theatre, in that it has moved audience focus to new media and forms of entertainment. But it has also provided new opportunities to live theatre and made communication with audiences far easier. The relationship between live theatre and the World Wide web is unlikely to ever be a simple one, but it is certainly an opportunity. If live theatre continues to make use of it, then, far from being the destruction of theatre, it may become a strength.
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