Lockdowns have dropped the curtain on live performances, but savvy actors at the Ballarat National Theater have found new ways to keep their productions going.
- Technology has helped regional theater groups reach new audiences through podcasts
- The Ballarat National Theater is doing well online by staging dramatized audio versions of popular books
- An academic says investment is needed to support the troubled theater industry
Since it wasn’t possible to have a live audience or even bring a cast together to film a performance, the organization switched to audio production and turned Jane Austen’s beloved tome Pride and Prejudice into a podcast.
The results were a hit, earning the nonprofit theater company an award from the leading international digital arts organization, the Webby Awards, earlier this year.
Success has spurred them on, with the group following their version of Pride and Prejudice with a JM Barries Peter Pan production in which more than 20 voice actors from all corners of the country contribute on Zoom.
Her Majesty’s Theater in Ballarat has been sitting idly during the pandemic, but a local theater company has found a new level of success off-stage.
Delivered: Her Majesty’s Theater
Forget the pandemic, we’re going to Neverland
Under the direction of the first directors Marli Van Der Bilj, Elizabeth Bradford and Olivia French, the latest adaptation of the children’s classic has proven to be another success.
“The response we have received shows that there is great interest and increasing demand in such projects,” said the directors.
Actor Jono Lukins as Mullins in the Ballarat National Theater production of Peter Pan, recorded from his bedroom. (
Supplied: Ballarat National Theater
The radio play has been listened to more than 8,000 times on various podcasting platforms since April, the equivalent of around 70 full-capacity shows at Ballarat’s Courthouse Theater on the Federation University campus in the heart of the city.
“We really tried to build a sense of community with our listeners through social media and it was heartwarming to see how many people tell us how much the audiobook means to them,” the directors said.
“Barrie’s language is beautiful and the connection to the text through the narrative in our production is thought-provoking as well as a means of escape,” the Peter Pan directors told ABC Ballarat.
Directors said that while the effects of the lockdown on their work were demoralizing at times, the production of this audiobook proved that performing artists can continue to create engaging work.
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“Bulletproof” online theater
Ballarat National Theater President Liana Skewes said attempting to put on live theater during the pandemic meant that performance schedules were often accompanied by an asterisk.
“In the meantime, interacting with our online productions is a little more bulletproof,” she said.
What did Australian theater learn and lose in 2020?
While the exact extent of the damage this disastrous year is difficult to determine, there have been successes for diversity and accessibility.
Skewes said the audience feedback was that the podcasts made them feel “less lonely” during difficult times, which was one of the goals of the productions.
“Pride and prejudice broke a lot of ground here and after Peter Pan we have three more works in this format ahead of us,” she said.
The Senior Lecturer of the Federation University for the Performing Arts, Dr. Kim Durban stated that “democratic participation” in an online audio production meant that these types of productions could pave the way for the industry.
“Many companies and artists have turned to online and virtual resources to keep their art alive and produce readings,” said Dr. Durban.
While admitting that nothing can replace a live theatrical performance, she said that “the whole field of adapting work to a wider audience requires attention and investment”.
“Anything that keeps actors, writers, and producers involved, engaged, and busy gets my vote,” she said.
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