Fresh Noir for Sale from Hollywood: An Online Future for Drama?November 15, 2014
If there’s one thing that distinguishes plays from movies and TV above all else it is the live theater experience. For all the advancements represented by filmed dramatic performances the danger of live drama – the willingness to work without a net (edits, retakes) – cannot be beat. Like other forms of entertainment, theater companies are struggling to create new forms of financial support today. The Internet provides new ways to promote and exhibit works in all kinds of entertainment online. What if a way could be found to sell plays on the Net?
To this end, the Los Angeles-based Heretick Theatre Lab offered an experiment last weekend. The Noir Series, a collection of four short plays, played at Hollywood’s Schkapf on Santa Monica Boulevard. Unfortunately, the show only ran for one weekend. That does not mean you cannot still catch it. The plays can still be seen online. There are two price points: $7.99 for 100 minutes of access (roughly the running time of the show) or $20 for one week’s access. The plays were an entertaining mix of approaches to L.A.’s signature genre and worth seeing for anyone who enjoys noir. There are no guarantees that the financial model will work but it does point the way toward a viable economic model for tiny dramatic companies.
The plays that made up the series were an interesting, often quirky approach to what can sometimes seem an overly stylized genre. Malfeasance by Stephen McFeely (and directed by John Hindman) felt like good old-fashioned, straight-ahead noir: a large package is delivered at the opening which an underworld fixer must dispose of; suffice it to say, complications ensue. Play No.2, Bad Medicine, took an almost Kafkaesque, mostly non-verbal approach to the genre, think bunnies instead of cockroaches and you may have some idea of where this tale went. Air Conditioned Rooms, Play No.3, was the most old-fashioned of the quartet; a man is being held hostage by a tough and his girl (who was the prisoner’s moll until recently); it uses some creative rear projection to tell its story economically and effectively. Rounding out the bill was Latvia by a writing collective known as Burglars of Hamm; this story freely utilized comedy to pose the question of whether our actions are the result of free will or fate. All in all, an nice collection of new approaches.
The $64 question remains: will anyone pay to see it? Heretick Artistic Director Jennifer Cotteleer spoke about the possibilities offered by selling performances online. This marketing approach may create a more stable future for small theater companies. With the added income from Internet ticket sales, the number and variety of dramatic offerings could go way up. That idea, along with the possibility that people interested in live drama but who don’t live near New York or Los Angeles might have many more chances to enjoy it from the comfort of their own homes. College drama majors across the country might be eager consumers as well.
That said, there are no promises that any of this will work. The need to do something to expand the market reach of these companies can only be a good thing. There’s too much trial and error to know what level of success online plays will find as well. Still, this is an idea worth trying. It’s also enough reason to check out The Noir Series if you missed it this weekend.
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Senior Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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