CREATe Event – Digital Dialogues with Theatre

Mindy Grewar from the University of St Andrews describes CREATe’s recent IP for Theatre Event, Digital Dialogues.

A recent IP workshop with the Federation of Scottish Theatres (FST) revealed the complexity of IP issues to be managed when digital technologies are incorporated into an established, multi-faceted industry such as theatre. Handled effectively however digital media offer enormous potential for theatre companies, regardless of size, to reach new audiences worldwide and to enhance demand for live performances.

Stellar Quines The List 1

Stellar Quines Theatre Company filming of The List

Digital Dialogues was hosted 9 September 2014 by the University of St Andrews Institute for Capitalising on Creativity (ICC) in collaboration with FST, with additional funding from CREATe. The event focussed on the implications for IP brought about by theatres’ increasing adoption of digital activities such as downloading, streaming and marketing, and their impact on specific industry participants including producers, writers, performers, composers, marketers, and audiences. 45 theatre and dance company representatives attended at the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh.

While the digital era is yet relatively new, there are leaders such as Digital Theatre co-founder Robert Delamere and  freelance producer and writer Lesley-Anne Rose who have quickly built expertise in working with and exploiting the possibilities, while legal specialists such as David Gourlay of MacRoberts LLP and Sheona Burrow and Philip Hannay of Cloch Solicitors have developed practices able to support the unique challenges of IP rights stemming from digital theatre and marketing.

In introducing Delamere and Rose, ICC researcher Eilidh Young observed that theatre producers typically juggle a variety of IP rights issues, a logical consequence of their coordinating role among performers, writers, musicians, technicians and others . The finding is one of several emerging from research ICC is conducting with Creative Scotland and CREATe on the management and exploitation of IP across Scotland’s creative industries.

Indeed, Delamere has established a practice in which contracts with authors and actors, covering all possible uses of IP stemming from Digital Theatre’s live-streaming, online and cinema film broadcasting and educational recordings, are signed well in advance of any new project. Such negotiations are aided by research Digital Theatre conducted in 2009, its first year of operations, with Equity and BECTU (Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union) to determine an acceptable legal framework for handling IP.  Now Delamere finds convincing creatives to participate in Digital Theatre productions is easier because they know their IP is secure within the contracts. Likewise, theatre agents and unions are becoming more knowledgeable about digital media and are now more receptive to working with it.

Such care with IP is helping Digital Theatre meet its primary aim, of providing a ‘global auditorium’ which makes theatre accessible to all ages, societies and regions. Digitaltheatre.com offers 35 HD films online, attracting 75,000 visitors monthly, and its YouTube channel has been seen by 1.25m viewers. The company also offers Digital Theatre Plus, a programme of rehearsal and backstage recordings, to support theatre education for 1.8m students in 36 countries, and its Screenings programme plays digital film in 1000 cinemas in 25 countries.

Rose spoke from her experience of working with theatre company Stellar Quines, which received Ambition Scotland funding to develop digital capacity through live-streaming, creating a 3-D digital recording of a pre-existing production—Ana–and producing a film–The List–for commercial distribution. The projects, which have attracted audiences across Scotland, Canada, and Australia, taught the company much about the challenges of filming in 3-D and about audience preferences for filmed theatre presentation.

Rose said the projects demonstrated that digital technology works best when it is embedded into projects from the start, and into the way a company already works, rather than being added on during a production. As with Digital Theatre, Stellar Quines found it important to secure IP rights early and to anticipate all possible uses of the digital IP generated, including for marketing, and to consider the media platforms where it will be used and the length of time it may be distributed. For the film project, she had found it easy to secure actors’ rights by using both stage and amended film contracts, rather than issuing new, all-encompassing contracts. However with writers, artists, and for pre-recorded music, the company had to create IP contracts from scratch. Rose recommended commissioning new music when possible as permissions for this are easier to negotiate than for pre-recorded music.

Both producers remarked on the potential for digital to continue sparking innovation in theatre, and defended the technology against fears that it could replace demand for live performance, noting that it can work complementarily and help reach new audiences that would not normally attend the theatre. Indeed Digital Theatre found that 70% of its online viewers said the experience made them want to go to the theatre more, or to participate in related activities such as live educational workshops. Such opinions echo those studied by NESTA research on Royal National Theatre live broadcasts which found the events led to larger, rather than smaller, audiences at the theatre itself.

During the workshop’s legal session, David Gourlay considered the range of IP permissions required for each participant in a production, beginning with the author of the original work, who must give the right to communicate it to the public. With creatives, there is a range of non-property, recording, property, and moral rights to be considered, and Gourlay echoed Delamere and Rose’s points that contracts should be agreed early and broadly, anticipating future permissions that might be required. The filming of sets, designs and costumes requires consent from freelance designers, Gourlay noted, and this should be recorded in written contracts for streaming and downloading projects. Even audience members’ consent to participate must be gained when the production is of an interactive nature and footage will be distributed, even if done so informally via social media. Gathering such consent requires advance planning, for example, for asking audiences to sign a consent forms on the way into a theatre or by making consent a requirement during the online purchase process.

Sheona Burrow, a solicitor with Cloch and PhD student with CREATe, considered legal issues which must be considered by companies conducting digital marketing. Chief among these is the ownership of and permission to use film, sound, and other content, and the contracts needed to address these rights. As with the theatre production itself, digital marketing of the work requires forethought as to all potential activities and covering these in writing early in the production, she advised. Marketing also requires compliance with essential codes and guidelines such as the Advertising Standards Codes, Control of Misleading Advertisements (Amendment) Regulations 2000, and Information Commissioner’s Office guidance. Managed effectively, brand and product marketing contribute significantly to theatre companies’ ability to be recognised by audiences, Delamere and Rose said, enabling them to compete on a global stage with other, often larger providers of digital theatre material.

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