Bootlegs Suck, Make Broadway Accessible Online
Is streaming the potential future of theatre?
(@hamiltonmusical / Instagram)
Nothing beats live theatre. Brisk, Times Square days spent waiting outside of TKTS, hoping that something other the Spongebob: The Musical is half-off. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the hype. There is something inexplicably magical about the lights going down and being completely immersed into an alternate universe where a dance number can solve anything. But when you look at a $200 ticket versus a $7 subscription, one seems more attainable, no?
Experiencing Broadway takes more than just a playbill. It’s a flight to the city, a hotel room, and then, if you’re lucky, a seat in the upper balconies. Which means that for most musical lovers, the next best thing is a shaky iPhone taping published on YouTube titled Heather’s Slime Tutorial. If there’s a world where I don’t have to search for shitty bootlegs on the internet, that’s a world I want to live in.
So of course, just like all my fellow Broadway-babies, I spent July 3rd on my couch for Disney Plus’s Hamilton debut. Taped shows have been released on streaming platforms before, but nothing quite as high-end and widely acclaimed as Hamilton. The 75 million dollars that Disney Plus paid to turn this into a feature film is no small price tag, and for good reason. This collaboration could potentially alter the future of theatre and officially make the theatre community more inclusive. Especially because in my opinion, the experiences are comparable.
Although seeing Hamilton in person was a moment that I wouldn’t trade for anything, being able to see the original cast in stunning, big-screen quality was insane. Not to mention something I never dreamed I’d have access to. (Also, if Jonathon Groff wasn’t your favorite part, you’re lying.)
The home viewing process was glorious, to say the least. I got to sing Wait For It at the top of my lungs and take snack breaks, so there were some definite pros. So, why can’t all taped shows be published to streaming platforms after their departure from Broadway?
A common argument is that there would be a significant decrease in ticket sales. Whether it be because the pro-shot is released before the show’s exit or because they hope to do a revival one day, this kind of reasoning is exactly why elitism remains a prominent characteristic of the Broadway brand.
“We secure all the permissions from the creative teams, the producers, the theater companies, all of the casts,” explains Patrick Hoffman, director of the Theatre on Film and Tape Archive at the New York Public Library. “Everyone has to sign an agreement authorizing us to come and video-record a production in its entirety.”
Unfortunately, even after getting every member of a massive team on board, most of these tapes go straight to the archives and are only accessible to a very restricted demographic. According to the New York Times, the NYPL is home to, “5,000 live theater performances covering the last 50 years. But they are only viewable in person, with a New York City library card, which limits access considerably.”
So yeah, the exclusivity runs deep. Theatre should be available to anyone who wishes to experience it. However, I’m hopeful that the streaming release of Hamilton encourages more shows to do the same. Beetlejuice, anyone?
On a final note, Broadway is not set to open back up until January 3rd at the earliest, leaving the artists of the industry jobless in a difficult time. If musical theatre has brought any joy into your life, be sure to support the community.
Madeline Murphy is an Online Writer at Rowdy Magazine. She’s currently studying Journalism with a minor in Women’s Studies. Madeline can be found making Apple Music playlists, trying Nigella Lawson recipes and binging SATC. She’s fiercely passionate about social justice and the power of words.