NOTHING ON YOUTUBE!! (PREPARING A BRITISH THEATRE CLASS)

I assume that what I’m going to complain about here is something that British Theatre specialists know very well. Yet, since I am not really a specialist and only teach theatre now and then, I must say that I’m surprised by the lack of good material on YouTube.

The last time I taught a drama subject (2006-7), my focus was Shakespeare on the screen, for which many DVD editions of the adaptations were available (Brannagh’s Hamlet took ages to be released, though, who knows why). Before that, I’d taught a course on British and Irish 20th century drama in 2002-3, when there was no internet connection in our classrooms. When the internet materialised, precisely in 2006-7, I discovered the pleasures of YouTube: interviews with writers, film scenes that needn’t be painfully extracted from DVDs, complete TV productions, music videos, and that memorable gag (for a Cultural Studies class on humour) in which with Chris Rock advices AfricanAmericans how not to “get your ass kicked by the police” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uj0mtxXEGE8).

Last week I spent a few hours browsing YouTube in the hopes that my students might see samples of good stage productions of the main British plays between the 1940s and today, from Terence Rattigan to Simon Stephens, so to speak. This was the result: I could add to my class notes YouTube links to a number of remarkable film and TV adaptations –Richard Burton can be seen in the complete TV version of Look back in Anger (1959)– and I discovered the genre of the theatre trailer; this is quite mystifying as, unlike film trailers, theatre trailers don’t really show scenes but just images suggested by the play (this was at least the case of Stephens’ Pornography.) There was practically nothing on such 1990s classics such as Sarah Kane’s Blasted, Mark Ravenhill’s Shopping and Fucking and Martin McDonagh’s The Beauty Queen of Leenane. ‘Practically’ means that I did come across scenes from amateur productions of many of the plays I checked, but these were poorly filmed and had usually bad sound, not to mention bad acting. I also discarded non-English-speaking productions, somewhat more generously offered.

I’m told that stage productions are not filmed in order to protect actors’ right to their image (what about actors in films?). I know, of course, that some theatres do film their own productions, but I also know that TNC here in Barcelona didn’t lend me their video of Brian Friel’s Translations, staged by The Abbey Theatre in 2001-2. I told them that having my class of 50 students see the video in their small facilities was not really an option but they never relented.

So, I’ll do without YouTube, except for writers’ interviews. Still, I don’t understand why the filmed recordings of theatre productions are not massively available on the internet. And I mean professional theatre, filmed professionally. Many would sign a pact with the Devil to see how Shakespeare was staged in his time, and I just don’t see why what is close at hand is not kept for posterity.

Maybe I have wrongly assumed YouTube has all the answers and there’s a wonderful resource just round the corner I know nothing about… Can anyone help? (Thanks)

1 thought on “NOTHING ON YOUTUBE!! (PREPARING A BRITISH THEATRE CLASS)

  1. As far as I’m concerned, there’s very little audivisual record of contemporary professional productions, especially dramatic theatre. More experimental companies, like Forced Eterntainment and DV8, do release DVDs of their performances. I highly recommend them, allthough they’re quite dear (see https://www.forcedentertainment.com/page/3044/Performance+DVDs). This is a highly pertinent point, Sara. Academia has long recognised that theatre cannot be understood or studied as the word on the page only, yet the means to do so remain scarce… ultimately privileging the already privileged: those who are geographically, chronologically and finantially able to attend the performances at the time of their staging. A shame!

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