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ITAlive reached 871,000 twitter followers via stream #romantragedies anyway. And special it was.

That Shakespeare is still relevant after four centuries doesn't even require putting him in modern clothes, but of course it helps. The worldwide success of Ivo van Hove and his 'Internationaal Theater Amsterdam' is therefore partly due to his Shakespeare adaptations 'Kings of War' and 'Roman Tragedies'. Marathons, hours of theatre with food in between. Valentine's Day 2021 was all about the stream, stripped from live audiences, of this play that I first experienced in 2007.

Back then, the setting was already special. The theatre was no longer a theatre; the actors were among the audience, who could sit and stand anywhere in the building that had been converted into a set. Walking was allowed, there were monitors everywhere and you could also join in a little via set-up terminals. Twitter did not really exist yet; it had won a prize at tech event South by Southwest only a few months before.

More topical than then

The world was a different place, then, but this play already gave a sense at the time that new things were afoot. And topical it was. But less topical than it is now. That is the wonder of Shakespeare, and of an adaptor with an eye for the heart of the drama.

In 2007, we had the scars of Pim Fortuyn's assassination and the rise of populism. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 9/11, and then Shakespeare's lyrics that seemed to have been used almost one on one by politicians on TV. Now there is an international version, a good month after an angry horde of misguided angry citizens stormed the heart of American democracy, spurred on by a narcissistic ex-president and would-be dictator. Shakespeare as a lyricist for a news report. So it can be done.

Fantastic numbers

According to data provided by Vimeo, the platform on which ITALive, the streaming service of Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, is streaming Roman Tragedies live streamed, at the start of the six-hour marathon, about 3,500 people were logged in. After more than an hour and a half, there were still 2,800, and shortly afterwards the data disappeared from the site. Apparently, the data was not suitable for the general public, even though these are obviously fantastic numbers. Thickly twice sold out Carré on Valentine's Day. Not everyone manages that with Shakespeare.

3,500 logged-in - ticket-buying - viewers on a Sunday that there is a unique ice surface, and that for something that promises six hours of 'theatre'? Moreover, that's easily between 8,000 and 10,000 viewers anyway, assuming that not everyone, like me, was watching by themselves with headphones on their laptops. At least one twitterer reported that the adolescent in the house had lasted past Coriolanus.

And this only applies to live viewers, the number in the replay is bound to grow. That it might have gone down a bit over the course of the evening: logical. Being locked in a theatre with the entire audience and players is a very different kind of experience, compared to sitting at home while your daily life in the form of food, drinks, cats and dogs that need to be fed goes on.

Speaking loudly

But: so it was more than worth it. At first, you might still be annoyed by the fact that everyone was talking so loudly, in something that nevertheless resembled live television, but I found that after a while it bothered me less and less. ITA was not trying to make TV out of a theatre performance that was about TV and media. It was precisely that alienation from those loud voices that somehow made it more intense, more Brecht than Chekhov, shall we say: you remained aware of the fact that you were watching something artificial, even though the world news intruded into the performance via ticker tapes during each intermission.

And Twitter was fun again for the first time in ages, within the bubble of the hashtag #romantragedies. There were not thousands of us, but dozens, and according to the most reliable analytics tools, it has been used 510 times and shared 355 times up to the time of writing, generating over 7000 likes. This generated a reach of 870,000 Twitter users, which is quite a lot, although not all 870,000 will therefore have immediately jumped on their bikes to go and see it live in Amsterdam's Stadsschouwburg theatre. To be accosted there by a confused Bart Slegers. And filming it on his phone.

Podcasts

Has this success set the tone for more live streamed theatre? Either way, it remains something for a niche audience and will never have the reach of music festivals, but that's not a bad thing at all. Online instead offers every opportunity for deepening within small communities, such as podcasts be a perfect place for people who fall outside the mainstream on radio.

So please do more, and then maybe also make alternative versions of real live events, so that any theatre performance, even in the small auditorium, can reach an audience of thousands.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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