SINGAPORE - With the Covid-19 pandemic having driven audiences out of theatres, the future of the performing arts looks bleak. But a new local digital platform could change that.
The Future Stage, a 360-degree livestream technology developed by home-grown theatre company Sight Lines Entertainment and tech start-up Xctuality, aims to reproduce the theatrical experience digitally.
"What we have done here is recreate the experience of going to the theatre," said local playwright and director Chong Tze Chien, 45, the project's artistic director, at a Zoom launch on Wednesday (Aug 12).
He walked viewers through a demonstration using the Victoria Theatre. On their screens, audiences can hang out in the theatre foyer reading virtual information about the play, chat with the front-of-house manager and even sneak a peek at the actors getting ready in their dressing rooms.
During the show, they can toggle between a variety of camera angles around the theatre, including the stage.
The technology makes use of 360-degree cameras with virtual reality and augmented reality functions that can be used to create choice-based narratives. This sets it apart from existing platforms such as YouTube and Facebook Live, where audiences usually have no control over their angles or perspectives.
It can run concurrently with an on-site audience - with or without social distancing measures - should companies want to complement a physical season with a virtual one that can run for an extended period.
Victoria Theatre has a traditional proscenium stage, but the developers stressed that the technology can be adapted to all sorts of productions - a performance in the round, a site-specific work or even a heritage trail.
Sight Lines Entertainment's executive producer Derrick Chew, 34, said many theatre companies are questioning if it makes economic sense to invest in stage productions now, when safe distancing measures would ultimately reduce audience capacity and, in turn, revenue.
"Every plan has been thrown out the window because of the pandemic, but I think now we have a solution," he added. "We strongly believe The Future Stage is going to be a game-changer."
The idea was conceived in June when Xctuality co-founders Warren Woon and Adrian Oliveiro watched a preview of Chong's show Murder At Mandai Camp, an interactive whodunit that unfolded over Zoom and messaging app Telegram. Intrigued, they met up with Chong and Chew.
Xctuality provides e-ticketing and smart event solutions. Its clients have included the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix, Streats Food Festival and this year's National Day Parade.
The Future Stage's production technology is ready for use, while the ticketing and streaming platform will be available from October.
The team will provide free consultations to arts companies on how to adopt the technology, which aims to be a one-stop platform for ticketing, advertisement placements, merchandise sales and possibly audience analytics.
Asked how much this would cost companies, Chong and Chew said it would be hard to estimate, as it would depend on each production's scale and budget.
Chong reckoned, however, that it would not cost more than 50 per cent of what companies would normally pay for producing archival videos of their works.
Chew also pointed out that they save on the additional cost of renting a physical theatre space for the entire season: "With the streaming platform, you can have a virtual season that can last months."
Theatremaker Zelda Tatiana Ng, 51, said she is considering trying out the platform for a new production by her theatre collective GroundZ-0, which will require the audience to observe players from many perspectives.
Though it cannot replace the physical theatre experience for her, she was drawn to the platform's one-stop nature.
"We're a very small company. If I can pay someone and they can do everything for me professionally, it would be a convenient way to do it," she said.
"This is the new normal and there are so many things we're adapting to and learning. I'm sure this team is still figuring it out. The more they do it, the more experienced they will be."