Theatre goes Digital

What began as a tool to help producers plan shows could now enable theatre companies to step into the digital age.

As a production manager, Stephen Roe was at the heart of the action.

He was the central point for communication between stage managers, designers, technicians, and the cast, making sure productions stayed on budget and that everyone stayed safe on set.

After 15 years in the trade – working for venues including The Arches in Glasgow and national companies like Scottish Opera – Roe realised there must be an easier way to share information between production companies and venues.

And so Stageport was born.

With encouragement from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS), where he worked, in 2017 Roe began investigating how other industries shared digital information.

He wanted to find a way to let production teams access and share accurate three-dimensional (3D) information about venues and then use those models to get information about the facilities at each location, before embedding production designs into those environments, so producers and venues could collaborate more effectively.

Roe’s research led him to building information modelling (BIM), a process used in the construction industry.

BIM had been promoted by the UK Government – construction and engineering teams had to produce accurate digital documents for every publicly-funded building project.

The following year, Roe entered Converge’s Creative Challenge to learn how to take his idea and turn it into a business.

The Creative Challenge is for aspiring entrepreneurs in Scotland’s creative industries, which contribute more than £5 billion each year to the nation’s economy, with judges drawn from across the sector and the Scottish Government’s Creative Scotland agency.

“Converge was a real acceleration of figuring out what we had to do in order to get into the market,” he explains.

“The competition shows you how serious you need to be to make it work. 

“When you come out of Converge, you understand that there’s hard work ahead of you and you need to be damn serious about it.”

After competing in the challenge, Roe grew his team from one to three as he continued to explore his options.

Then, the coronavirus struck.

Theatres and other performing arts spaces were forced to close, and production companies were left to find new ways to reach audiences.

Roe realised the digital systems he was developing could help producers to make the leap into the digital arena.

“The systems we are developing lower the barriers to digital innovation within the performing arts, enable more efficiency during the production process, and add value through the production of digital content that producers can share with audiences,” he says. 

In 2020, Stageport was awarded £272,000 from Innovate UK as part of a consortium working with the Tramway arts venue in Glasgow. The project will demonstrate how digital innovation can help the UK’s performing arts industry to recover from the coronavirus lockdowns – and to engage with audiences both inside and outside the room.