I was listening to the Royal Court Playwright’s Podcast with Simon Stephens recently in which he interviewed playwright and screenwriter Anya Reiss. They were talking about Reiss’s three-year stint writing for EastEnders, an incredibly popular British soap opera. At one point in the conversation, Stephens talks about the estimated total amount of people who have seen his most commercially successful work, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time versus the amount that have seen Reiss’s first episode of EastEnders. Curious Incident totals around 2 million viewers. Reiss’s single episode around 8 million, and those numbers are solely from the initial airing of the episode.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time opened at the National Theatre in 2012 and transferred to the West End where, after its closing, re-opened due to popular demand and is still running today. Additionally, it ran for almost two years on Broadway, and has had five other international productions. Despite all of that wildly rare success, a single episode of EastEnders had four times the views the first time it aired on TV.
So when we talk about accessibility in the theatre, is it more productive to focus on pure reach, or cultivating an event that lives within the immediate community of the theatre?