(Thomas Rogers’s article appeared in The New York Times, 3/5; via Pam Green; Photo: La Scala in Milan in July 2020. Credit…Antonio Calanni/Associated Press.)
People from across the continent told us about the ups and downs — mostly downs — of loving and streaming theater during a pandemic.
With most European countries lurching between lockdowns and reopenings over the last year, it has been a disruptive time for the continent’s many theater fans.
When theaters open up across Europe, likely in the coming months, they will do so in an increasingly digital world (theaters in a few countries, like Spain, are already open). Deutsches Theater in Berlin, La Scala in Milan and the Schauspielhaus Zürich, among others, have streamed performances during the pandemic, and fans have had access to virtual theater from all over the world. Some venues have expanded their audiences far beyond what’s possible in their physical spaces. Around 160,000 viewers watched a streamed performance of “Carmen” last year by the Berlin State Opera, whose auditorium seats 1,300.
The shift has raised questions about whether audiences will return to theaters in the same numbers as before, and whether a blend of online and in-person viewing will become the new norm. The answers could have broad repercussions for the European cultural landscape. As the critic George Hunka once put it in The Guardian, “theater, as an art form, is not as deeply embedded in the history of America’s modern culture as it is in Europe’s.”
To find out how the pandemic might affect Europe’s theater scenes, both large and small, we spoke with theatergoers in seven different countries. These are edited excerpts from those conversations.
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Nadia Busato, 41
Recently, there was a symbolic event where theaters were open and lights were on and you could walk to the foyer of the Teatro Sociale, and I cried. Some of the most important moments in my life are linked to shows I’ve seen — when I was pregnant, when I had my second child. I spent the first lockdown at my parents’ house with my kids, and every morning, the telephone would ring, it was news that someone we knew was dead. The important thing was to keep it all together.
The ministry asked all of the theaters in the public theater system to put their archives online, so once a week at least, after everyone had gone to bed, I would watch a performance I had never seen before. I love theater so much, but it was hard to watch and listen because it was not a quality experience. In Italy, we are not used to thinking about theater existing outside of the theater, in other media.
I’ve subscribed to the National Theatre’s streaming platform, the Soho Theatre platform, so maybe in the future instead of Netflix I will watch international theater online, and I hope that Italian theater goes online with similar products.
My whole life when I wanted to see a show, I took a plane and went to the place and watched the show there, but now I can see them online.