Guy Masterson – Muse of Fire – What’s wrong with not-live live theatre? Plenty!

Guy Line

“He said the risk of putting on ‘live’ live theatre was, frankly, too great.”

A theatre manager friend told me the other night that he was really proud that he’d sold 300 seats for the RSC’s ‘live’ broadcast of Love’s Labour’s Lost. “Live theatre is not dead!” he proclaimed.

He then went on to tell me that because of this new phenomenon he did not have to book live theatre into his theatre anymore. The risk of putting on ‘live’ live theatre was, frankly, too great. He could no longer really afford or justify the sums involved, including the cost of performance fees; the cost of marketing; the cost of tying up the theatre (which could otherwise be used for cinema three times on the same day) etc.

On the other hand, with this system, my theatre manager friend could satisfy his local discerning theatre audience AND make money both on ticket sales as well as bar & food sales. A win-win situation. Unequivocally prudent thinking from a man responsible for spending council money wisely…

But let’s examine the question more deeply. What does this actually mean for REAL live, live theatre? For real life actors (such as myself) who travel around the country putting on real live performances in such theatres?

With the advances in broadcast quality streaming of live performances, flagship companies such as the RSC, RNT and RNB etc, can now broadcast live performances directly from their theatres into thousands of theatres, not just domestically but GLOBALLY.

Typically, I’ve been advised, the fees that participating theatres pay is 50% of the take against a guarantee – whichever is greater. Out of that take, we presume, the facilitating broadcasting company/distributor will make a deduction (let’s frugally guesstimate 20%). Let’s also assume (generously) that the remaining balance goes to the theatre.

For the sake of argument – the actual figures don’t matter too much here – let’s imagine that with Love’s Labour’s Lost 300 seats were sold at £15 a ticket. So the theatre box office took £4.5k. After tax, the overall take was about £3750 of which about £1500 would go to The RSC. Now lets just say that 1000 theatres booked this performance globally (a conservative estimate) and each sold 300 seats for much the same price – you already have £1.5m new income for a single theatre performance!

One could assume that the average take in a bigger theatre would be much much greater and respectively for smaller theatres. Let’s also remember that this new income would be heading to an already (massively) publicly subsidized company.

Now let’s say that Mr Average Live Theatre Lover has only £50 a month to spend on theatre – down from c.£100 since the recession – he’s just blown 60% of his available monthly theatre budget watching the RSC’s live broadcast instead of paying to see an actual live performance using live actors in his local theatre. Given that he now only has £20 left in his budget to spend, his overall annual spend on proper live theatre has been slashed by 60%.

BUT what happens to that £1.5M of new income going to the RSC? Does it reduce the subsidy to the RSC? Does it mean the Arts Council could (in theory) redistribute their funding? Do the creatives involved in that production make any extra money? Are there royalties involved and are they commensurate with the new income generated? This bears some scrutiny, methinks.

If the RSC was NOT subsidised AND was using this as a new source of funding, more power to them! After all people actually want to see their work, and don’t all producers want to find new outlets and reach more punters? Plus theatre lovers can see the RSC semi-live in a proper theatre for about half price without having to travel to Stratford or London. Great right?

My question is… “Is this not (actually) doing more damage to live arts (not just live theatre) than we realise?”

My question is… “is this not (actually) doing more damage to live arts (not just live theatre) than we realise?” If theatre managers all over the country – or even the world in this case – are replacing LIVE programming with pseudo live programming, doesn’t this just slash the number of outlets for live programming?

And, at worst, is this not contributing to a concentration of wealth into elite national companies? And if this really works for the RSC, surely Cameron and Co. will eventually use it as an excuse to slash Arts budgets further?

Of course I can see the positives of reaching a wider audience, but I am one of those that make my living at the sharp end of the touring theatre wedge and can feel the knife cutting the bottom out of my wallet.


Guy Masterson is an actor, director, producer & writer. Over 21 consecutive seasons his theatre company, Theatre Tours International, has become the most highly awarded and nominated independent theatre producer at the Fringe. The company’s string of hits includes the record setting 2003 production of 12 Angry Men – famously starring 12 stand-up comedians.

Guy originated the West End hit production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (starring Christian Slater and Mckenzie Crook) in 2004. In 2005 he directed Edinburgh’s highest grossing show of all time, The Odd Couple, starring Bill Bailey and Alan Davies. His 2009 production of Morecambe transferred to the West End and won the Olivier Award for Best Entertainment in 2010.

Most recently, he directed an epic 30 actor production of Animal Farm with the Tumanishvili Film Actors Theatre Company of Tbilisi (Georgia) which won The Stage Best Ensemble Award at Edinburgh 2014.