The debate over whether or not theatrical events should be filmed has been explored here in the past, but I’d like to bring back the topic, since I now have a bit of first-hand experience. Two weeks ago, I saw a screening of Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s much derided sequel to Phantom of the Opera. I’m a huge Phantom fan (not a huge a fan as I was in my angsty high school years, but still a fan) so though I wanted to see the show, I was nervous. I mean, the story already has an ending, why would you mess with that? But that’s not the topic of this post. I also recently watched the DVD of the 25th Anniversary production of Phantom at the Royal Albert Hall. Leaving comparisons of the shows themselves out of this discussion, there were notable differences in the way these shows were filmed and presented. Love Never Dies was filmed without an audience over the course of three days. Scene transitions were edited out, and the interior of the theatre was never shown. The Phantom DVD, on the other hand, openly acknowledged the audience. Certain shots from the very upper reaches of the theatre allowed you to see all the levels and seats within the hall. Sometimes the camera seemed to be in one of the orchestra seats, so that the viewer could see the stage over the heads of other audience members in the front rows.
Clearly, the difference came down to the fact that the creators of Love Never Dies were trying to make the audience forget that they were seeing a stage show, while those involved with Phantom made no attempt to hide the theatricality of the event, even if they weren’t particularly emphasizing it. I think both these approaches have merit, and I don’t have a strong preference toward either. I wouldn’t be surprised if, as this becomes a more popular practice, which I think it will and should be, more shows are filmed in a way that does not emphasize the fact that it’s a live performance in a theatre. This will probably draw a larger audience, as some people who are not theatre fans may be turned off if a movie feels too much like a show.
Overall, I would say I am personally a big fan of this trend toward filming shows. It’s great to be able to intimately see the actors’ responses and gestures. Though it will never, ever replace the experience of sitting in a theatre, I think this is a great way for people to have access to art to which they would otherwise not be exposed.