Founder of Scenesaver Caroline Friedman talks about the digital platform!
An idea had before last year’s lockdown and born out of her role as OffWestEnd Award Assessor, Caroline Friedman has recognised a need for an online theatrical platform showcasing the work staged at Off West End, Off Broadway and Fringe theatre venues. A platform committed to making the arts more accessible to audiences, the resource has partnered up with the Black film and Theatre Directory and Stagetext to ensure that this becomes a reality, the site also free for viewers to subscribe to and access, as well as being a crucial lifeline for artists to showcase their own work and generate an income. The site also hosts the Theatre Club, a great way to ensure international connection with their New York contingent, the OffWestEnd/OnComm Awards who are vital to highlighting the great work staged within the fringe theatre scene, amongst various theatre festivals and self produced work. Caroline tells us more about the ambitious resource!
Hi Caroline, you’re the founder of Scenesaver, an online theatre resource platforming offwestend, off broadway and fringe theatre shows to viewers for free What inspired the creation of the much needed resource?
There were three main factors. Because I’m an OffWestEnd Assessor, and living in London, before lockdown, I was lucky that I could go to the theatre every night and see amazing shows. Because the work in little theatres is very exciting, and because they’re smaller venues, you have the freedom to experiment, you can create work that is innovative and different to traditional performances.
I was very conscious that at the end of a run, having seen these amazingly talented performers they would say to me, “Oh I’m going to go and work in a shop now because I haven’t got another acting job”, and I thought, this just isn’t right. How do they showcase their talent? People need to see the work.
Secondly I thought that it’s so frustrating that there are people who can’t get to the theatre, it could be because of access issues, because of disability or for reasons of finance, childcare or work commitments or geography. If you don’t live in one of the big cities, you can’t get to see these performances.
And the third factor is, if you take London alone, there’s over 100 little theatres – I doubt anyone could name them all. And what I thought was, really what we should do is showcase the theatres, let people find out about them.
And the idea with Scenesaver is, it’s all in one place, you don’t have to know about theatre, you don’t have to be an expert, it is a one-stop hub.
I was creating Scenesaver before lockdown, and when lockdown came, I thought, I’m just going to go for it. I made it free for two reasons, one is because I think everyone should be able to see this work, and the other thing is, I wanted people to do the decent thing. If you can afford to buy a ticket, buy one, we give that money to the theatre companies. If you can’t pay, you can still watch theatre. It’s an altruistic site, we’re doing something to help, and what we say to the theatre companies is, especially now with live theatre resuming, you’ve made your money from your run, this is a chance to showcase your talent, for the work to live on, and for you to do something good and to share it with people who haven’t seen your live performance.
For creatives, we have producers and casting directors who look at the site and it gives them a chance to see what work is being made and who is making it. I’m very keen on promoting work that wouldn’t usually be seen in the mainstream and getting people to push their own boundaries. To see work that they maybe wouldn’t have bought a ticket for first time round, but they’ll try it and think “Ah wow, this is incredible, I didn’t realise I liked that!”, and then they’ll do it again, so that’s the idea. We have many partners, including theatres and organisations such as the Black Film and Theatre Directory and Stagetext – we ask creatives to caption their performances, or we can arrange it for them- it’s all about accessibility.
There are over 500 shows that can currently be accessed on the platform, creatives encouraged to upload their content onto the site. What does it mean to be able to offer an important platform within the industry such as this?
One of the best things is the emails we get, because we get emails from people who say thank you- from theatre companies and theatres and from subscribers who say “Thank you this is the first time ever that I have been able to see these performances”. People who could never get to the theatre, people who say “I never knew there was this wonderful work being shown in theatres”.. People who thought theatre was just about traditional Shakespeare. People who would never have gone to a theatre, and are now saying they’ll go to see live theatre. And for creatives it is an incentive for them to make work and have it seen all over the world and, of course, to earn some money.
When I launched it, I had no idea if it would work – I felt it was what people wanted. The uptake has been fantastic, we have thousands of subscribers all over the world view the content, so… hopefully… it’s worked!
Launched during lockdown, one of the main aims of the resource is to make theatre accessible to all. What within the time the site has launched have you noticed in terms of how both creative and viewers connect with the platform?
For creatives, when lockdown happened, they were in shock. I know in some countries, people were in the middle of a performance, when they were told, “Go home. This is over.” If you’re in the theatre world, theatre it’s what you do. One person wrote to us and said Scenesaver has been a lifeline, it has kept her sane because she had something to do. It’s pushed the boundaries, people are using mobile phones, they’re using Zoom, they’ve had to be what they are – creatives! It’s been a challenge that they’ve risen to which has been incredible. And the work is exciting, I always think, if work is good, it doesn’t matter how it’s presented because it will draw you in and you’ll love it.
We’ve also been able to show work for children that is signed. Children with hearing problems who could never go to the theatre, can experience theatre. That’s been wonderfully rewarding. The children’s shows are particularly important because not only are they entertaining but also they help parents who are working from home. We have print out theatre tickets, so people can print out tickets, say to their children, look, you’re going to the theatre, they can sit and watch it, and it gives the parents a break or time to work.
It’s also kept theatre in people’s minds, because otherwise, they’ll get out of the habit of watching, so that’s important!
As well as platforming work, you also stream the OnComm Awards, a range of theatre festivals and host the Theatre Club showcasing the site’s variety. For anyone maybe not as familiar with these – can you explain what they entail?
Theatre Club is like a book club, but for theatre! We have one based from New York and one from London, and the idea is that we get together, and meet once a month. We were hosting it more often during lockdown because everyone was at home, but it’s now monthly. We choose a performance, everybody watches it, and then we get together to discuss it. We’ve all become really good friends, because obviously we’ve been meeting up for 18 months now, and it’s just nice to talk about theatre because with social distancing and everything, one of the things people have missed is going to a show and afterwards saying, “What did you think about this?”, and chatting about the performance – so that’s what theatre club is.
What are your hopes for the platform?
To continue with the core aims of showcasing talent, promoting accessibility and encouraging people to go to live theatre. We’re also now big in education, drama schools promote Scenesaver because it enables students to see theatre for free, and also they can see work they couldn’t usually access due to geography. And another plus is that, they can press stop! They can press pause if they’re drama students, and studying to act, and discuss the performance. We’re also creating a huge collection of all different performance genres to create a major archive. Furthermore Scenesaver is providing a platform for creatives who feel marginalised, or are experiencing difficulties in having their work staged, to show their performance. We try to be versatile, so we do not always insist a performance has to have been staged in a theatre. If it’s viewable because it’s a properly rehearsed reading, a staged reading or something, new, we’ll help. The idea is that we expand and encourage, we offer feedback sessions with our members, we do whatever we can to help because the idea is to support the industry and help people enjoy seeing theatre.
What can viewers expect from the platform?
More exciting work! And the fact that they’re all different lengths, you don’t have to sit there for two hours. We have some shows that are just a couple of minutes or ten minutes long, but they are complete performances and they are every bit as good as longer performances. There are all genres, traditional theatre, fringe, comedy puppetry, dance, audio, there really is something for everyone whatever your age or your taste.We want to excite audiences and fire up their imaginations and let them value theatre and encourage them to go out and see it.
To find out more about Scenesaver, visit here…
To find out more about Theatre Club, visit here…