Grant Dodwell and his partners in Australian National Theatre Live are building a business by screening films of live performances of plays in cinemas across the country.

Dodwell, fellow actor Raj Sidhu and former journalist, ABC and Nine Network executive producer Peter Hiscock launched the company in 2016 after receiving a federal government catalyst grant.

Their first production, Liberty Equality Fraternity by Mother & Son’s Geoffrey Atherden screened in cinemas in 2016.

That was followed by David Williamson’s Emerald City, the 15th anniversary edition of the Sydney Theatre Company’s Wharf Revue, Rumpelstiltskin, a kids’ musical by Rosemary Myers and Julianne O′Brien, and The Dapto Chaser, a comedy about a greyhound racing family by Mary Rachel Brown.

For the first time they are partnering this month with Dendy Cinemas and the Independent Cinemas Association to show the STC/Malthouse Theatre revival of Michael Gow’s Away.

ANTLive filmed the 1960s-set play, which follows three families heading off on a Christmas holiday, starring Heather Mitchell, Glenn Hazeldine and Liam Nunan, using 8 4K HD cameras in a single “live” performance with a packed audience.

The film will premiere on more than 120 screens on November 15 and next year will be streamed to schools via the STC’s education division.

Ticket prices will be $20-$25 and $18 for concessions but are just $10 in community halls in towns which don’t have cinemas; there are flat fees for educational screenings.

“Our goal is to preserve our theatrical heritage and to make theatre accessible to more Australians everywhere at a reasonable price,” Dodwell, a former Home and Away and A Country Practice star, tells IF.

“Thousands of theatre lovers across the country who never get to see theatre in our main cities can now see great Australian plays at their local cinema and for a fraction of the price.”

Production costs range from $150,000-$180,000 per film and are subsidized by the trio’s corporate production company Realplaymedia.

They are continuing to apply for grants from the Australia Council and are pursuing sponsorship rights and philanthropic options.

“Post-cinema release we have the rights to overseas sales, DVDs, streaming and broadcast rights and we have deals with Digital Theatre Plus, a UK subscription-only online service to global education institutions including India and China, and a US education streaming service,” he says.

“We will recoup over time because the films are perennial. It’s worth noting that the London-based National Theatre Live started with a multi-million dollar grant via their Arts Council/London City Council and are now making a profit after seven years and a continued investment of millions of sponsorship pounds.

“We’re nowhere near the NTLive numbers yet but with time and marketing/development funds, we intend to match them within a few years. Our goal is $20,000 sales per film, a sustainable profit point.”

Already on the slate for 2019 are Louis Nowra’s This Much is True and Katherine Thomson’s Diving for Pearls.

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