With few opportunities to attend live productions in the theatre due to COVID-19, many avid theatregoers are being forced to find other ways to experience live performance. Along with making plays and musicals on Zoom and other internet platforms, many organizations have made past live productions available by streaming them on the internet. Cineplex offers a similar experience, but on the big screen. Cineplex cinemas continues their “Stage Series,” which not only offers audiences an opportunity to watch live performances filmed over the past decades on the big screen, but also includes many extra features that are not available to audiences in the conventional theatre-going experience. I spoke with Brad LaDouceur, Vice President of Events Cinema at Cineplex, to discuss how the “Stage Series” can satisfy the need for live performance, and maybe even offer something different, for theatregoers across Canada.
How can the productions featured in the Stage Series satisfy avid theatregoers?
This season, we are bringing back audience favorites. We are continuing our long-standing relationship with London’s National Theatre to bring back such hits as Frankenstein starring Johnny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch, King Lear starring Sir Ian McKellen, and Fleabag, the one-woman show that inspired the hit television series starring Phoebe Waller-Bridge. With these fan favorites, we hope to give an audience an experience that will remind them of being in the theatre again, but, of course, in a safe environment that has responded to the realities of the pandemic.
What does the Stage Series offer that is different than the experience of a live productions?
The filmed performances of National Theatre productions really focus on being able to get the audience closer to the actors and their emotions than is possible in a live performance. Benedict Cumberbatch as The Creature in Frankenstein is especially thrilling to see close up. Unlike in the theatre, everyone gets to experience the performances close up, no matter if you’re in the first row or the last row of the cinema. There is also behind the scenes footage, filmed during the performance. During intermission, there are interviews with the actors, which gives the audience access that is not possible in live theatre. Lastly, the experience of hearing the production through the surround sound technology of the cinema brings added excitement to the experience, an element that is not usually a part of experiencing a performance live.
Why should audiences be excited to see stars from Hollywood hits like X-Men and The Avengers features in plays?
There is a kind of magic that happens when classically trained actors are captured on film. And this season in the “Stage Series” there are a ton of veteran stage actors who we have become familiar in Hollywood blockbusters returning to the stage. We are bringing back Caesar and Cleopatra with Christopher Plummer. We have Plummer, who is a veteran stage actor but most recently famous for starring in last year’s surprise hit Knives Out, playing Caesar. Opposite Plummer, we have Nikki James as Cleopatra, who went on to star as the female lead in The Book of Mormon, in which she won a Tony Award. To see her playing one of George Bernard Shaw’s great heroines is such a contrast from her performance in the musical comedy hit The Book of Mormon. In addition to Plummer and James, the “Stage Series” include performances by Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy, who both had their turn in Hollywood playing Charles Xavier from the X-Men moves. The best actors, of both stage and screen, vie for an opportunity to perform on London’s prestigious West End, especially in productions produced by the National. If you missed these productions the first time, you missed a great moment. But we are bringing them back for audiences in this season of encores. There is magic in the theatre–there is a unique opportunity to see great actors perform in the context of the magic of the theatre. This appeals to both cinema lovers and theatre lovers.
Theatre is an experience. It happens live in real time and space, which, in some ways, echoes the definition of “event.” How do the screenings of productions for the Stage Series, which is a part of your “Event Cinema” series, happen as “events?”
When most of these productions were originally filmed, they were broadcast globally within six hours of the performance. The performances that were not broadcast live or mere hours after they were performance were screened one or two weeks after being filmed. This immediacy creates a sense that you’re watching something that has happened recently or is happening still somewhere in the world. And that is exciting and not something audience’s experience when watching movies.
Which productions are you particularly excited for and why?
Frankenstein by Academy Award-winner Danny Boyle, who directed Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire is a treat! The lighting is incredible. Benedict Cumberbatch as The Creature is particularly brilliant. I love when you have such a collaboration that creates magic on screen, and this production certainly does that. It’s an audience favorite. Audiences keep coming back.