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From the Big Stage to the Big Screen: Live Events at a Theater Near You

Photo of Jacob Combs By Jacob Combs | Thompson on Hollywood June 17, 2014 at 1:47PM

Simon Russell Beale, one of the UK's most renowned stage actors, is currently bowing each night at the National Theatre in London's South Bank as the title character in Sam Mendes's production of "King Lear." For those of us on this side of the pond, it's a disappointment that the Atlantic is between us and a seat in the theater. Lucky for us, there's National Theatre Live.
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Simon Russell Beale and Anna Maxwell Martin in Sam Mendes's National Theater production of 'King Lear.'
Mark Douet Simon Russell Beale and Anna Maxwell Martin in Sam Mendes's National Theater production of 'King Lear.'

Simon Russell Beale, one of the UK's most renowned stage actors, is currently bowing each night at the National Theatre in London's South Bank as the title character in Sam Mendes's production of "King Lear."  For those of us on this side of the pond, it's a disappointment that the Atlantic is between us and a seat in the theater.

Lucky for us, there's National Theatre Live.  The British stage company is screening its productions in movie theaters world-wide, which means, for instance, that a Shakespeare lover in New York could watch Beale's performance this Sunday at the IFC Center.  (On the west coast, the production is screening in the Bay Area and in Seattle.)

In fact, this kind of live streaming seems to be growing more and more popular.  National Theater alone is beaming several of its productions across the U.S., including upcoming screenings of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" and "Medea" in Los Angeles.  The Metropolitan Opera in New York has been  active in screenings its productions nationwide: this summer, Met fans outside the Big Apple will be able to watch "Rigoletto," "La Rondine," "Otello" and "The Enchanted Island." 

Similar plans are in the works for Broadway shows, courtesy of a group called BroadwayHD.  So far, only one production--last year's "Romeo and Juliet" with Orlando Bloom--has been shown in theaters.  Another outfit, Broadway Near You, this month screened an Australian production of "Driving Miss Daisy," starring Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones.

Equally powerful is the allure of the livestream.  Picturehouse Entertainment is broadcasting Monty Python's final live show from London's O2 Arena on July 20 to theaters around the world.  It's the group's first live performance since they played the Hollywood Bowl in 1980, and nearly 1,500 cinemas around the world will screen the live event.

And it's not just theater and opera making its way to movie theaters--sports matches are lighting up the big screen as well.  This April, Fathom Events broadcast the world title bout between boxing stars Floyd "Money" Mayweather and Marcos "El Chino" Maidana live in theaters across the U.S.

For now, the concept of in-theater broadcasts of live events is in its growing phase.  But there's money to be made here, which means it's only a matter of time before some bright mind cracks the model.

Check out the trailer for Mendes and Beale's "King Lear" below.

This article is related to: Sam Mendes, Web/Tech, Digital Future, Exhibition, Exhibition


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.