John Chapman on reviewing 100 online theatre shows during lockdown

John Chapman is a part time actor, director, arts reviewer and writer and while the theatres are closed he has undertaken two enormous labours of love. Firstly, watching and reviewing an online theatre show a day on his blog “2nd from Bottom” as he explains below. Secondly, compiling a comprehensive list of online theatre going opportunities during lockdown. We asked him for his thoughts on this extraordinary time. 

On April 1st (appropriate some might say) I began a lockdown project for which I resolved to watch at least one online show a day and then post a review. Thus #30plays30days was born. When I got to May 1st, I couldn’t see the point of stopping and so the cycle of viewing and reviewing is still ongoing. I have now seen and reviewed 100 shows on 80 consecutive days.

These have ranged from the highly polished offerings of the National Theatre at Home, via the clever work carried out by the production company The Space, to less sophisticated but still compulsive videos to be found on platforms such as You Tube or Vimeo. Some recordings were clearly never meant for public consumption, some exist to make innovative use of the medium via which they are being shown. Increasingly there are live streams using the likes of Zoom and a whole body of audio and TV material to engage with.

When I began I wasn’t altogether sure it would be feasible to find enough material but theatres and companies have seen this as one way (perhaps the only way) of keeping their brand alive and I hope I’m doing my bit to help by reviewing and encouraging others to watch. Frankly, there’s almost too much out there and I was grateful when the Scenesaver website came along and did some of the curating work for me. The fact that it has forged close connections with the OnComms also gives a guarantee of good quality when making choices.

Online shows come and go but increasingly now more sophisticated productions are arriving for which minimal payment is expected; much of the material, however, is still free to us. It has to be remembered that actors and creatives still have to be paid – so do donate as and when you can.

Reviews are posted daily on my blog 2nd from Bottom; click follow to keep updated

My Theatre Online list contains suggestions and news of newly released productions; this list is supplemented by daily updates on Twitter (@johnchapman398)

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