On Monday, we’ll be releasing a specially created audio-play version of touring production Dare Devil Rides To Jarama. The play was recorded professionally over two days with Hollow Moon Media in 2017 during its original tour, and now, after an extensive editing process and with the addition of sound effects, the creatives involved have produced a very high-quality, ‘ready-for-radio’, digital audio-play.
We’re very excited that we’ve been able to produce something of broadcast quality during lockdown and we very much hope that audiences will engage with it as they did with our live version, which was performed in 2016-17.
But after it was all edited and finished, we found one of the decisions, which was just as hard to make as a lot of the creative choices, was how to release it, and whether or not we were going to try to monetise that release in order to cover even a fraction of the money we spent to create it.
On the one hand, we certainly felt no shame in releasing the work as a ‘paid for’ digital download, to reflect the hours of creative input into the finished product, but whilst our price point was not expensive at £6, which in theatre ticket terms is of course very cheap, it is at definite odds with a backdrop of plentiful digital content available for free on all sorts of platforms.
After much consideration, we knew that we felt that it’s important and fair to ask audiences to pay a small fee towards the work, especially as it’s been incredibly challenging for performers to monetise their creative output during lockdown.
Then, once we’d made a decision to “ticket” the show, as it were, the next challenge was to decide on a platform for broadcast. Unlike with music, there are no real platforms that specialise in paid-for audio plays. Bandcamp, a digital platform associated more with music output, offers theatre creatives a way to monetise their work, without the platform itself demanding a large cut of the income – so that’s where we chose to place the work.
Obviously, with streaming services such as Spotify paying out such low revenues to musicians, theatre-makers are far from the only people who face this challenge – it’s one that any artist whose output works well in a digitised format must contend with. Our hope is that with lockdown, and the resulting huge uptick in digital performing arts, people might begin to consider the idea that art, especially if this is the main way it is accessed, should pay the artist.
Putting Dare Devil Rides To Jarama online is partly experimental to see if there is an appetite for this kind of model for theatre, and to test if there’s an understanding from audiences that free digital content is unsustainable for the creators. Perhaps in the future, there could be a bold move to create a new digital platform for future high-quality audio work from theatre artists, so that they can gain some reward for their high-quality output.
But this will only work if audiences can get into the mindset of paying for them. And that is the primary challenge we and all theatre-makers and other visual and audio artists face in a post-Covid world. Perhaps there will be an opportunity for a model similar to Netflix and Amazon Prime that will work for theatre-makers, or perhaps our best model would look quite different. Maybe there is a way to raise income via advertising or group sponsorship, which could subsidise a ticket price.
Either way, we hope that audiences won’t resent the idea of paying around 1/3 of the price of a single ticket to a fringe theatre show – because if theatre-makers don’t work out how to monetise their performance in a digital environment, then there may well be far fewer people making work in the future.
Dare Devil Rides To Jarama is available through Bandcamp for £6. For a £12 subscription, audiences get to keep the download of the play and also will receive a CD of the original songs from the show. Click here to download