The National Theatre in London is one of the UK’s most prominent publicly funded arts organizations. Across three stages at it’s home on the South Bank of the Thames, the NT stages around 25 productions a year – this year these include Angels in America starring Andrew Garfield, and Network starring Bryan Cranston. The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh (shameless plug for our upcoming production) had its world premiere at the National Theatre in 2003. The NT is also at the forefront of using technology to connect people to the theatre, through initiatives like their NT Live broadcast, and most recently through the brilliant NT Podcast. We caught up with Sam Sedgman, host and producer.
How did the NT podcast come about?
It’s always been part of the National Theatre’s ambition to share theatre with as many people as possible. We do a great deal of work to make our productions as accessible as we can, all over the world – whether that’s through touring, through NT Live broadcasts, or online streaming of our productions for free into schools. Launching this podcast, which uses theatre as a starting point to explore big social and cultural issues of our time, is another way we can connect with our audiences globally – even without them having to come and see the show.
What does the NT hope to achieve through the podcast?
One constant delight about the NT is the wealth of amazing people working on fascinating ideas here. There are a huge amount of brilliant stories behind the scenes that don’t often get told. So that’s what we wanted to do with the podcast – share the stories and ideas behind the shows with as many people as possible.
Why is theatre still relevant and important?
As a maker of digital content, one of the funny things about my job is that the videos and podcasts I make about plays may last far longer than the plays themselves. Theatre is ephemeral, and evaporates from the auditorium to make way for the next new show. But that’s why it’s always going to be the artform at the forefront of where we are today – great theatre is always speaking to the world right now. It only ever takes place in the moment.
London has a thriving theatre industry, any advice for a younger city like Vancouver on how to help foster an appetite for the medium?
I think the best theatres feel open. You walk past and you feel like “this place is for me”. A lot of great London theatres have cafes, bars, open spaces where workshops happen or community groups meet – they feel like living spaces. So that’s important. But really, it’s all about making great stories that talk to the audience in a way they can truly connect to. I love film, but films take years to make and are watched by millions of people all over the world. But theatre made locally in your city can speak to you and your neighbours in way that’s immediate and touching and makes you feel a part of something in a way no other work can.
Any thoughts on the intersection of theatre and technology, particularly in regards to attracting younger people to the theatre?
I manage National Theatre: On Demand. In Schools, which is our streaming video platform for UK schools. It lets any teacher show their class recordings of NT shows for free. I’ve learned a lot looking after this project. A lot of kids are at school studying plays as part of their English curriculum, but they may have never been to the theatre. So it’s really hard for them to make a connection between the words in the playtext and the vision of that play as a fully realised production. Being able to show a classroom a recording and say “this is what a play looks like” can be a tremendous benefit to a school if those pupils haven’t been to the theatre before. If you grow up never having been to the theatre and not understanding it, it forms a barrier that’s very hard to break through in later life. And then you miss out on all these amazing storytellers: all that insight, that joy. Using technology to create a greater awareness of theatre at a younger age is, I hope, one way of making a generation of young people more engaged with the arts.
I know Othello inside out and love it dearly. Arcadia is another favourite. But I saw People Places and Things with Denise Gough last year and it was one of the greatest evenings I’ve ever spent at the theatre – powerful storytelling firing on all cylinders.
Check out the NT Podcast here.