This week, Creative Producer Fiona Lindsay interrogates what it is for something to be live...

The concept of presenting work live is not something that musicians, dancers, singers and actors ever really discuss or consider unusual or a big deal. The live platform is the domain of choice for most artists, and encounters with audiences that can be seen and heard and engaged with stir excitement and offer challenge.

Most performers I’ve come across always admit nervousness prior to stepping into the limelight, but that’s tempered with an inner confidence as the preparation time spent in rehearsals brings comfort and security. The performer’s world has mainly been a live one, until fairly recently.

What is live though? How live is live?  Any performance that is presented in front of an audience and without delay i.e. in the present, is deemed to be live but just how live can it all get? I’m quite preoccupied by this at question at the moment.

Last weekend I was invited to host live on stage conversations with actress Sophie Thompson (to mark the publishing of her first cookbook) followed by the members of cast and production team of Britain’s most successful TV export – Downton Abbey - to celebrate the sixth and final series of the show. These events are always thrilling and terrifying in equal measure as, apart from the research and preparation I do in advance, there is no rehearsal, no pre-meeting, and no script. The first encounter with the guest is usually in the green room and after a quick check of sound and light we’re given the cue to go on stage. I love it. I love the frisson of excitement that comes when audiences and performers meet in this form of entertainment. I love helping to ignite the chemistry between those on stage and off. I love live.

During our on-stage conversation on Sunday, actor Kevin Doyle who plays the aptly named Mr Molesley in Downton pondered the notion of doing a live episode of the show: “Can you imagine one of those dinner scenes? It’d be absolute carnage, wouldn’t it?” There was a wave of laughter from the 2000-strong audience as he said this unscripted line in response to one of my questions and I followed on by suggesting he’d just made the next day’s headlines. And sure enough the light-hearted comment was expanded and given coverage across various newspapers and online media and entertainment sites on Monday. We had no control over this and it made me feel less critical of all those radio and TV panel shows that seem live but are in fact extremely tightly scripted so as to keep the reigns on how what they present is interpreted by others. It’s a bit like playwriting in a way, or is this far too tenuous a comparison?

There are very few theatre shows that stray from what the writer intended and the actor’s job is to stay on text. The live production is harnessed very tightly with the intention of encouraging the audience to behave a certain way. 

I’d hate my real-time conversation events to be scripted as the very essence of a good conversation is that it is unpredictable. Today we publish the transcript of my unrehearsed conversation with Richard Armitage with the only outtake being my voice. Enjoy and hurrah for Kevin Doyle’s unscripted enthusiasm making the news. Keep it live, I say.


For more on this topic, Digital Theatre Co-Founder and Creative Director Robert Delamere contributed to The Stage earlier this year with a piece considering 'What is live and does the audience really care?'. Read the full feature here.