Fiona Lindsay on Digital Theatre  

If you love something, you want to share it and there is a lot to be learned, enjoyed and considered through access to theatre. Digital Theatre Plus is one true way of getting to the nooks and crannies anywhere in the world. What we’re trying to do is to say, ‘here is good quality theatre and a lot of fantastic stuff associated to it and we want to provide as much access as we can in the most appropriate way’.

I helped to establish the Royal Shakespeare Company’s education department and so I was always really aware how important it was that the wonderful resources the RSC had should not just be enjoyed by those who can get to Stratford. My job there was to take the joys and wonders of Stratford, Shakespeare, the language and the plays to others, to get a connection and involvement.

When I left the RSC in 2008, Robert Delamere [established theatre director] and Tom Shaw [producer] were just beginning to dream up the idea of Digital Theatre and the timing was right! But I thought as well as going to individuals we should really be taking the idea to young people and schools.

Theatre can help you understand stories and stories can help you understand the world and yourself and that’s really important. Participation through a workshop, just getting language in your mouth, getting another feeling coursing through your veins can trigger other ways of thinking. Most important, if it’s harnessed in the right way (participation and immersion in theatre) it can enable confidence. If confidence is enabled then the trigger that gives to the other subjects, like science and the humanities, is phenomenal.

At the moment there is a lot of talk about wellness and mindfulness. As a theatre practitioner, the activity that goes on in the drama studio, in the drama class, in the rehearsal room is all about opening up a thought, unravelling that thought, connecting to that thought, discussing that thought. It’s about being confident enough to articulate that thought and your own thoughts; it’s not just about the play, the character or the performance – it’s more than that, it’s about the wider world.

Access is becoming increasingly difficult – we have a really proud theatre industry in this country and it’s not just centred in London. There are some amazing regional theatre companies – with fantastic participation programmes.

But there are only going to be so many seats in the theatre and only a number of participation sessions. There are far more young people than sessions available or seats. As a theatre practitioner, I would never want to replace Most teachers want to take their pupils to live theatre and there is huge pressure in schools with schedules. Teachers are time poor because of demands put upon them. It’s costly – the teacher that goes out has to be replaced with a supply teacher. If you have a year 7 group beginning their journey with Shakespeare, you don’t just want one class to go, you want all year 7 to have that experience. But that would just burst the bank. Then teachers have to make a choice – teachers have to decide which groups go and that’s horrid. No educator should have to make that decision.

It’s too soon to consider the impact of theatre cuts but lots of organisations have had 100 per cent cuts in this new round. Take Propeller as an example – they make Shakespeare very accessible to a whole generation of young people and adults – when these theatre companies get their funding cut, usually they have to look around the table and decide what they can afford and what they can’t afford. Their raison d’etre is to put on plays and they have to reduce everything else – and often that is education which is really sad.

As a nation various ministers talk a lot about the wonderful value and contribution of our great arts tradition and the contribution it makes, but it is the most cut, which is ironic – we bring in so much income and added value. The soft skills developed through theatre allows us to develop society, make it cohesive, fair and one that understands itself. It’s an emotional articulacy, an ability to employ the trick, the argument to discuss in a fair and interesting manner’ make your point and I go back to confidence. We’re not making the best of these skills.

The incredibly satisfying thing is that we have a wide range of organisations subscribing to us. Our first sale three years ago was to a university in Australia. They have renewed year on year because it tells you they are happy. We’re now all over the world – in established organisations like Yale, Guildhall and RADA but we’re in small schools in north London, in Cornwall, in Scotland and across Europe – the majority are state schools in the UK and even home-schoolers, particularly in America.

In light of everything in the current cuts, and the climate, for me it’s really important we work in tandem with our theatre partners to support their work.

Digital Theatre Plus is an online education platform featuring full-length productions of acclaimed captured live performance, behind the scenes interviews and in-depth Study Guides written by academics and practitioners.