Recording Live Theatre

Having recorded many live theatre performances we’re always interested in the debate as to whether you can ever truly capture a performance in a way that represents the experience of being in the venue.

acapmedia @ the Etcetera Theatre, London


A recent article in The Guardian highlights that this is not necessarily the intention of reproducing a live event in video format; there are many varied reasons for wanting a record.

  • Choreographers might want to have a quick record of their work that doesn’t require a complex notation system.
  • Often work-in-progress pieces are recorded as a reference to work from in the future.
  • Sometimes it is just for archive.

Perhaps a single compact camera, propped up against a wall, is all that’s needed in many circumstances but for those who wish to create something that’s more visually (and audibly) appealing, a lot more work can be required.

Using multiple cameras to capture an event will offer the advantage of greater detail. Arguably this could detract from the “real” experience in which audience members don’t move about seeing the show from lots of different perspectives. This also brings into question the process of editing, which is often largely done without the immediate input from the performance director, and therefore requires judgement calls as to what angles are used and when.

As a theatre director there are times that I will try to focus the audience’s attention somewhere, as part of the story telling: “Look everyone, she has put a gun in the drawer.” but there are also times when I will very much want to rely on “live” elements of theatre and have enough happening that individual audiences members have to edit where they are looking for themselves. Of course, in truth it is accepted that this is always happening. And how one member of the audience interprets the gun going in the drawer can wildly differ from someone else’s interpretation. Therefore, when choosing what cameras and cuts to use we always try to focus on storytelling. What will best help someone who has ONLY seen the video understand the story of this piece. Yes, we want to show off beautiful sets, yes we want to keep the piece open to interpretation but yes we want the audience to feel like they are watching a show and getting the story and we do that by moving from close ups to wide shots as best fits the narrative just as the audience does when watching something live:

Close Up: She is putting a gun in a drawer

Wide shot: There is a knock at the door on the other side of the stage. Who is coming in? What is she doing?


PS: Audio is equally as important in terms of… no, in fact, good audio is (in some ways) more important than great images and just typing that has given me an idea for our first vlog, coming to you shortly… which I think will demonstrate the point more clearly. If a picture is worth a thousand words then video is worth twenty four thousand words a second. (Chris reminds me its 25,000wps in a PAL system)