Bernadette Cochrane and Heidi Lucja Liedke – The digital and the live: Three in one? On NT Live audiences and communality


Bernadette Cochrane and Heidi Lucja Liedke

University of Queensland and University of Koblenz-Landau

The digital and the live: Three in one? On NT Live audiences and communality

The cinematic screening of live theatrical performances is a signal indicator of intensifying demand for cultural exchange and access. The paper considers how the international, intermedial phenomenon that is National Theatre Live creates three different classes of audience whose experience of the performance is shaped by different degrees of invested cognitive work. These audiences are the theatre audience, the simultaneous cinematic audience, and the delayed cinematic audience. To explain: the theatre audience shares time and space with the production. The simultaneous cinematic audience shares time but is geographically remote from the production. The delayed audience, often the international audience, is both temporally and geographically distant. If theatre is innately communal, then this configuration of audience implies a relational series of degradation or diminution of experience. Key to this implied diminution is the insinuation of the loss of community. We argue that, first, the audiences differ from one another on the basis of the cognitive work they need to invest into the experience of the performance. The cinema and the delayed audience make up for the diminished experience (through spatial/geographical and temporal exclusion) by re-imagining themselves back into the space and time of the theatre audience. Second, we argue that the three audiences while existing separately, overlap and intersect to create a fourth category of audience: the meta-audience. This meta-audience, those who occupy the position of two or more of the originating audience types, both extend and amplify the notion of theatre as a communal act. Rather than audience categories existing on a degrading plane, the meta-audience reconfigures these audiences as co-existing, mutually enriching communities. The meta-audience offers replenishment rather than reduction. The concept of the meta-audience also links up to and problematizes the discourse on the “ideal reader” or rather “ideal spectator”: What would an ideal audience be, for National Theatre Live? And is the ideal audience an abstract concept or a hybrid of all three classes of audience?

Bernadette Cochrane is a Lecturer in Drama at the University of Queensland. She works in the field of new dramaturgies. Publications include: “Screening from the Met, the NT, or the House: what changes with the live relay”. Theatre to Screen. Spec. issue of Adaptation (2014 with Frances Bonner), “Blurring the Lines: adaptation, transmediality, intermediality, and screened performance” for the Routledge Companion to Adaptation (2018), and “Screened Live: Technologically Reconfiguring Notions of the Author” Body, Space Technology (2020). Bernadette is a contributor to the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Stage Directors and Directing (2020). She is a board member for the Migrant Dramaturgies Network,

Heidi Lucja Liedke is Assistant Professor of English Literature at the University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany. In her postdoctoral project, she examines the aesthetics of live theatre broadcasting and how it oscillates between the poles of spectacle, materiality, and engagement. Heidi was a Postdoctoral Humboldt Fellow at Queen Mary, University of London from 2018-2020. Recent articles include: “‘These Seats Are So Comfy’: Livecasting and the Notion of Comfortable Theatre” in Comfort in Contemporary Culture: The Challenges of a Concept, edited by Dorothee Birke and Stella Butter, Bielefeld: transcript, 2020, 209-230; “Emancipating the Spectator? Livecasting, Liveness, and the Feeling I” in Performance Matters 5.2 (2019): 6-23; “In Appreciation of ‘Mis-’ and ‘Quasi-’: Quasi-Experts in the Context of Live Theatre Broadcasting in Platform 13.1 On Criticism (2019): 86-102.