Australian audiences will be the first to see a season of filmed performances from Shakespeare's Globe theatre, as cinemas and distributors take a punt that more moviegoers want to see live cuts of plays, opera and ballet in arthouse and multiplex venues.
The comedy All's Well That Ends Well, filmed in high definition last year, opens in cinemas nationally tomorrow – just before Britain, given the time difference, and a week before the US. The season continues in October with Much Ado About Nothing and then Christopher Marlowe's tragedy Doctor Faustus.
Australian audiences will want the experience of seeing productions filmed in the replica theatre, opened in 1997 on the Thames and based on the two original late 16th-early 17th century Globe theatres, says Rob Marshall, the Perth-based Globe on Screen executive producer.
"It is probably the most spectacular theatre anywhere," says Marshall, who flies regularly to London for filming. "It's a lovingly recreated Elizabethan theatre. You point a camera at almost any part of the building and it looks beautiful."
Performances in the round, open-air theatre have lights up throughout – rather than the dark of most theatres – and the cameras take in not only the actors close up in their Elizabethan costumes, but also the surrounding, casually dressed audience members, whose laughter and engagement feed the performances.
The plays are performed in a live "take", with post-production used to iron out lighting and sound inconsistencies, but are not beamed live to cinemas mostly because of Britain's inclement weather.
Marshall looks to the experience of New York's Metropolitan Opera for his business model, from which he says cinema sales of recorded performances now far out-earn live ticket sales.
Meanwhile, Britain's National Theatre Live will launch its new season in cinemas with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time on October 6, followed by The Last of the Haussmans, a new play starring Julie Walters.
Walters told the Herald from backstage at the National Theatre that the last performance of the season, on October 11, will be beamed live to European cinemas, and on delay to Australian cinemas on October 27 and 28.
"The big practical consideration is you're acting for cameras, and the bigger audience is going to be in cinemas," she says, "but you're also having to act for people in the back row of the theatre. It's not quite good acoustically, it's quite hard, so everything is pushed; that's the difficult thing about it."
While seasons are short-lived, National Theatre Live has been an "unprecedented success", says Natalie Miller, the Melbourne-based executive director of distributor Sharmill Films. She said that last year Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard took $150,000 from two screenings at 18 cinemas; and more recently Verdi's La Traviata, with Met Opera star Natalie Dessay, took $159,000 from 30 screens.
But comprehensive box office figures are hard to come by, says Lori Flekser, the general manager of the Motion Picture Distributors Association of Australia. "There's been some reluctance to report and we're desperately trying to get an angle on it," she said. Flekser has no doubt a new market is opening up.
Opera Australia is "building its presence" in cinemas because of the potential to engage audiences beyond Sydney's Opera House or Melbourne's Arts Centre, says the chief executive, Adrian Collette. Turandot will be shown in cinemas in October. In late November, there will be a live simulcast of Madama Butterfly from Melbourne.
South Pacific, starring Teddy Tahu Rhodes and Lisa McCune, has just been recorded for a cinema release next year: good news for those who missed the Sydney show's four-week, near sellout run before its 10-week Melbourne run, and weren't prepared to buy the remaining tickets for standing room only or a partially obscured view.