The pandemic hit almost every industry imaginable, however theatre company Filament decided that they would utilise the time, even with the odds stacked against them, to continue telling stories in their theatrical style.
After realising that theatres would be closed for the foreseeable future, the team at Filament asked themselves how they could deliver their show “The Cherry Coloured Coat” online whilst remaining immersive and engaging. After much deliberation it was decided that they would send out packs that included a personalised invitation to the online production of the show and a secret password. These packs would be the first content audience members received and provided an in-person, tangible object that would grant an experience that had a likeness to the kind that Filament traditionally offer.
Such considered thinking and quick preparation is something to admire, but I am interested in how they wish to deliver a combined approach now that theatres are beginning to open again. Co-Director of Filament, Sarah Richardson, said during the 2021 Bookseller Children’s conference that their reach had increased dramatically by having the content delivered online. She acknowledged that this was predominantly because their in-person productions normally have “small intimate groups” in which they could not facilitate the numbers that an online production could.
I would propose that this experience has not only allowed Filament to understand a new way of sharing their work with groups of people that they may not have considered their main demographic, but also how in doing so it can open new doors in the way they approach accessibility.
For instance, with adequate funding they could deliver performances in locations with less cultural infrastructure. Richardson did mention this in her talk, however she highlighted that the online delivery of “The Cherry Coloured Coat” is what allowed Filament to reach this audience and her preference of giving children the chance to “literally step into the story.” The importance of in-person theatre and interactive storytelling is something that Richardson clearly prioritises and I understand why. She articulated that the company pre-pandemic did not have the inclination or the budget for developing online productions because their focus was live, interactive theatre. However, after the success of this production Filament may well acknowledge the possibilities and benefits of an online audience as well as an in person one.
I myself have found this discussion immensely interesting and will deliberate upon the notion of what theatre companies can do to assure that this new normal of providing art online does not become an excuse to not make the effort to take physical art to those who need it most. Yes, online content is often far more accessible to the masses but the experiences of in person theatre is something that can never be exactly replicated. Therefore it is the responsibility of theatre companies to work out how to ensure that these performances are reaching as wide and diverse an audience as possible.
Whilst we are unable to know how the creative industries will continue to evolve after such a turbulent eighteen months, I believe that this shared event has proven to us that accessibility is even more achievable than ever before. We can build upon these experiences and be even more radical in our approach to involving everyone in the art we create.