Peering through the glass

Over the Christmas break I went on the National Theatre’s backstage tour – which displays a little of the inner workings of the large theatre. You see into the three main theatres, go under the stages, walk through corridors normally not open to the public, and occasionally bump into theatre stars. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone – but this isn’t just a tourist advert for this London landmark.


No. One of the things that was mentioned on the tour excited me and got me thinking. The workshops, carpentry studios and set painters were not visible on our tour as they have been moved to a new temporary location in preparation for NT’s Future project. When they come back, you’ll no longer have to pay to see the workings of these fascinating parts of the theatre, by going ‘behind the scenes’. Instead, as part of a major NT Development of their South Bank site, they will be bringing the scenes to life right on the pavement, with new glass fronted working studios open for everyone to peer into. That’s right, in the future you will be able to wander down with your coffee and stare inside as a set is being made, props are being crafted and walls are being constructed.  The NT is opening up what it does and laying it bare for us all to see.

The current director Nicholas Hytner says he wants to give people ‘a greater understanding of the plays they see and encourage the public to participate in the process of making theatre’.

It struck me on this tour that this is just one of countless examples of companies starting to be ‘transparent’ – to show (and in some cases prove) what they are doing, and how they work. So we understand them more, yes, but also so we feel part of them and get involved. Say you are walking past the NT and see a super cool set being designed, or an amazing prop. You’ll want to know what it’s for, for which play, and chances are that will make you more likely to want to see it.

I remember when publishing used to be all closed up and behind an ‘iron curtain’. I would constantly get told that we couldn’t mention anything about a project until it was completely finalised, totally planned from start to finish. We shouldn’t show things in stages as people might get confused or *gasp* want to have a say. There seemed to be a thought process that why would anyone be interested in what happens behind the scenes, and why should we take time to show them? Well, twitter has pretty much changed that and I am pleased about it. Seeing an author’s process on Twitter, seeing how many words they have written, a snapshot of the cover, a write up of their first publisher meeting – these all help you feel like you know the author, and want to know more about the book. Here, we always set out to be public fronted, and talk about what we are doing at all times (in fact, most of the time you can’t shut us up!) and I’m pleased to see that many other companies are starting to do the same.

It made me think of this lovely ‘Birth of a Book’ video filmed at a printers for the Telegraph last year. As many of us move towards more e-reading – it’s nice to show the process that goes into printing of the physical books we also want to keep alive.

Birth of a Book from Glen Milner on Vimeo.

So what about you? How do you feel about companies being more open and approachable? Do you like being more involved in how things get made?

Sarah B

P.S – The NT need our help to make the Future project possible. You can find out how to get involved on their NEW project site here


2 responses to “Peering through the glass

  1. I love the idea of companies being open and transparent – not least because I’m a little bit nosy hehe.

    I completely agree that getting a look at something before it’s finished can make you feel more involved and want to actually go and see / read etc what it’s going to become a part of. 🙂

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