An Experience in Simulcasting

by Rachel Long
assistant opinions editor

This week I had the opportunity to view a simulcast of A Streetcar Named Desire in Baton Rouge. The play was performed live at the Young Vic Theater in London and broadcast at the Manship Theater in Baton Rouge. Simulcasting generally implies a simultaneous broadcast, but sometimes the broadcast, as in this case, will be pre-recorded and shown later to accommodate time differences. This method was originally used to transmit sound into television shows and has been used to broadcast radio programs for years, but simulcasting live play performances is a relatively new phenomenon.

This is understandable—a play is meant to be viewed live, and the viewer loses some of the experience by watching a recording. This is especially true with this performance ofStreetcar, which was performed on a stage set in the round, and which rotated throughout the performance to give the audience a complete view of the set. In a live performance, the audience would become immersed in this type of play. They would be able to experience it as if they were in the play themselves, interacting with Blanche, Stanley and Stella because the actors are so tangibly involved with the audience.

Viewing this play as a simulcast, though, takes away from this immersion. A camera can only film so much of a stage at once, and the constant adjustment of camera angles was always there to remind me that this was being filmed. Had I been viewing this play in the round, the way its London viewers were, the rotation of the stage would have created a totally different experience. The slow movement of the open set would have gradually let the viewer see different angles, whereas the movement of the cameras created a more jarring image that doesn’t allow viewers to fully imagine themselves as a part of the show.

It’s easy to imagine how different it is to view a moving set in person versus viewing it over a recording, and this difference is precisely why, I believe, the simulcasting of plays is not widely used. Given the opportunity, I think it would be better to view a play live and in person, but simulcasting works as a different means of access for people who don’t always have access to live plays. Though I would have enjoyed a live performance more, the motion of the camera didn’t take away from the superb acting or expert staging.

Coming from a small town where the only plays are put on by high school drama clubs, the prospect of viewing a professionally performed play, live or via simulcast, is an invaluable opportunity that doesn’t happen often. Though some of the dramatic effect is lost in viewing a recorded broadcast, it’s innumerably better than not seeing the play at all. Simulcast opens up the world of theater to people who don’t have access to it otherwise, which is a good enough reason to promote these viewings more widely.