Marquee TV, the world’s leading digital platform for the performing arts, has just launched in Australia, adding productions from Opera Australia and The Australian Ballet to its extensive, world-class catalogue. Head of Content Kathleya Afanador tells Hugh Robertson about Marquee’s exciting plans for the future.

Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour
La Bohème, Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour, 2018. Photo © Prudence Upton

Streaming video has become one of the fiercest battlegrounds in 21st-century entertainment. Behemoths such as Netflix, Amazon, Disney and Apple are shaking up film and television production in a way not seen since the birth of the Hollywood studio systems. But in all this, the performing arts have been left behind.

One service that is attempting to fill this void is Marquee TV, which launched in Australia in September. Established in 2018 and dubbed ‘Netflix for the Arts’, Marquee TV has subscribers in over 100 countries and a substantial catalogue of opera, ballet, theatre and classical music concerts through partnerships with some of the world’s major arts organisations including the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne, Sadler’s Wells, Teatro Real, English National Ballet, The Washington Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, New York City Ballet and Shakespeare’s Globe.

“It has been a long time coming, launching in Australia, and we are really excited about this,” says Marquee TV co-founder and Head of Content Kathleya Afanador, who is based in New York.

In an encouraging sign of a genuine commitment to Australian audiences, Marquee TV has launched here with major titles from two of Australia’s biggest companies: Opera Australia and The Australian Ballet. 

Opera Australia’s spectacular Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour series will feature heavily, with productions of Aida, Carmen, La Traviata, Madame Butterfly, La Bohème and Turandot all available to watch on demand. 

A huge range of titles from The Australian Ballet will be available as well, including recent productions of Coppélia, La Sylphide, Paquita, The Nutcracker and The Merry Widow. The Ballet’s contemporary works are well-served too, with Dyad 1929, choreographed by internationally acclaimed British choreographer and director Wayne McGregor, Graeme Murphy’s one-act The Narrative of Nothing, and also Warumuk – In the Dark of the Night, a collaboration between the Ballet and Bangarra Dance Theatre led by Stephen Page. 

With a background in dance and choreography (as well as a cognitive science researcher – “when I was an opposite side of the brain person”), Afanador knew of The Australian Ballet through the work of choreographers like Alexei Ratmansky and Wayne McGregor, and is excited to have secured these productions for Marquee TV. “I have been chasing this deal for like three years!” she says with a laugh.

Marquee TV is by no means the first attempt at a streaming arts network, but Afanador believes that they are in a position to be successful. As with all success stories, good timing had a huge part in it – and as strange as it may be to say, COVID has created enormous opportunity. 

“There was a temporary band-aid agreement that happened over the past year that allowed companies to film and distribute through their own websites,” says Afanador, “So especially here in the US, a lot of companies set up their own mini-streaming platforms for their donors, their members, and a bit of a wider public – but they are essentially still reaching their own audience.”

“But I think it has also made a lot of companies realise that there is real potential to continue this beyond COVID, even after they go back to live performance. Some of the partners we work with were so thrilled to see that people were watching them outside of their home state, outside of their home country, and they want more of that.”

“I think companies have realised that the digital audience isn’t something that can be thrown away or ignored, it is a real asset they can build on.”

With this embrace of digital audiences has come an embrace of the digital format. Organisations are investing heavily in actual filmmaking, going beyond merely filming a concert – a shift that the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Australian Brandenburg Orchestra have been leading the charge on locally. 

“Digital gives organisations a lot of room for a different type of creativity,” says Afanador. “It doesn’t always have to be just a stage capture trying to replicate a stage production, you want a digital product that is unique in its own way. And I think there is a lot of room for creativity there, to make a digital component of a live work, or a companion, or whatever direction you want to take it.”

Marquee is accelerating this adoption of the digital-centric language, not just buying the rights to productions but investing and co-producing productions from the ground-up. “We co-produced Turn of the Screw, the Britten opera, [with OperaGlass Works in London]. That was filmed in a very cool warehouse sort of space,” says Afanador. “It was definitely not a proscenium production! We are starting to work with partners to produce new filmed works, and support them in innovative projects. That is something that is really important to us in the co-production projects that we pursue, that there is an element of innovation, and it’s not just replicating past seasons’ work.”

The Opera Australia and Australian Ballet productions are included as part of Marquee TV’s Autumn/Winter 2021 season, which also includes exclusive content from the likes of Teatro alla Scala, Milan, and Teatro Real, Madrid. There are a range of exciting additions for theatre lovers, too, including Ian Rickson’s production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya with Richard Armitage, Toby Jones, Anna Calder-Marshall and Roger Allam, and a collection of classic Broadway productions with major stars such as Meryl Streep.

Featuring older productions is something new for Marquee, which up until now has been focussed on current shows. “We haven’t really taken that route up until now because we didn’t want to project the image that Marquee was a repository, or a library, of old, forgotten content,” explains Afanador. “We wanted it to be about representing the arts now, what creators are creating now, and new productions, and supporting the living, breathing artforms that these are.”

“But of course there are gems from past decades that we absolutely want to bring on. So we are starting to look backwards a little bit and bring on select archives, and select productions. We are bringing on an old production of The Magic Flute with Diana Damrau and her legendary performance as the Queen of the Night – that will be so great to have.”

The Australian Ballet
Chengwo Guo and Ako Kondo in The Australian Ballet’s Coppélia. Photo © Jeff Busby

Marquee TV is available to Australian audiences for $13.99 a month, with a special annual offer of $97.99. It is accessible via the web and all major devices. Learn more at marquee.tv/

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