Bringing Theatre into the Digital Age

While theatres struggle throughout America, London has embraced the digital age by distributing theatre productions online by streaming to movie theaters and through digitaltheatre.com. By bringing American theatre into the digital age, we can create a larger market for productions and artists. Why hasn’t the US theatre community caught up and done this? Our licensing and union restrictions that prevent film distribution were put in place with the best of intentions, but are now holding the theatre industry back.

But, what if all of this changed? Even better, what if we could use technology to transform the theatre industry?

Licensing and Equity rules that prevent filming of theatre productions are in place to protect against piracy and exploitation of performers. Currently, under the Los Angeles 99-seat theatre code, filming of theatre productions is banned, which protects the actors who are working for little to no money. Unfortunately, this solution solves a tiny problem instead of fixing a bigger one.

The bigger problem is the business model of theatre. It’s become prohibitively expensive to produce theatre. When it does get produced, it’s often more predictable and less groundbreaking. For producers to risk their money, they reasonably want to know that they will lose the least amount possible, and hopefully make some. The more profitable they can make one show, the more shows they can produce.

But producers are limited to how much money they can ever make. They are still confined to how many seats they can cram into the four walls of a theatre. Sure, they can raise ticket prices, or sell alcohol, or extend the run, or tour, but the rules are still the same: how much money can I get from the people within these four walls? It’s time to change the rules. Let’s look to ourselves for the solution: break the fourth wall. Or in this case, tear down all four walls.

The biggest threat to live theatre isn’t high ticket prices, or unoriginal productions, or production costs. It’s Netflix.

We have a choice: either we’re Tower Records, or we’re iTunes. We are at a critical moment in theatre’s history, and we can choose whether we sink or swim. If we swim, if we adapt, if we embrace technology, we can get back to the joy of theatre.

As a culture, we’ve trained ourselves to embrace online content. We’re conditioned to consume entertainment over WiFi. Sitting at home and watching a great performance on Netflix is tempting. It’s convenient, affordable, and it’s on demand. It may be our deep dark secret, but I’m sure most of us have chosen to stay in some nights and watch Netflix instead of seeking out a live theatre production. Sure, we could keep doing what we’re doing now: putting bad quality clips on YouTube, where we have no way to monetize it, no way to distribute full-length content, and no way to provide our audiences with a legitimate, fair way to buy our shows online. What if we stopped treating technology as the enemy, and started thinking of it as a way to make even more art?

Think of what happened way back in the olden days with Napster. People wanted an additional way to listen to the music they love, but there was no legitimate marketplace to do that, outside of paying twenty dollars for a CD when you only cared about a single song. Instead of spending their time fighting Napster, Apple adapted and overhauled the entire business model with iTunes. They bet that consumers would pay for music if they had a legitimate way to buy it on the internet, and they were right. Let’s create an online marketplace for theatre where everyone can make money and share the profits fairly.

“But you can’t put content online! Nobody will come to live theatre anymore! We’ll cannibalize our own audiences!”

Except, we won’t. Luckily, Peter Gelb has already begun experimenting with this by broadcasting the Metropolitan Opera into movie theatres around the country. If the mission is to bring the best quality opera to as many people as possible, then broadcasting operas live in HD has absolutely accomplished that. As opera attendance fell, the Met adapted and found a way to distribute its art to as many people as possible at an accessible price point.

Of course, not every theatre experience is as grand as attending the Met. We have small intimate black boxes, magnificent historical proscenium theatres, and everything in between. We all want to get our art out to as many people as possible. It’s one of the best moments you can have as a theatre artist: knowing your work is good, and knowing people will see it. Nothing will ever compare to the feeling you get in live theatre: the magic of house lights dimming and a curtain rising, but we have to find a way for online and live content to coexist.

I’ve had times when I get the urge to go see a show, but it’s after 10 o’clock on a Monday night. I can pretty safely guarantee that if I were to log online and watch theatre at that time, it wouldn’t be taking away from any live theatre.

Let’s look at another scenario: I had a friend in New York City who wrote a hilarious musical. I was dying to support her and go see the show, but I couldn’t get to NYC from Los Angeles with all my other commitments. Was I willing to fork over five hundred dollars to fly to NYC for thirty-six hours to see her show? No. Would I have paid twenty bucks to see her show online? You bet.

I’m going to pose one more scenario. This time, it’s a personal one. When I was fourteen years old, I would go into an AOL chat room to find bootlegged cassette tapes of Rent on Broadway. I was happy to fork over my babysitting money to feel closer to live theatre. That taste of theatre gave me the hunger to move to New York to be closer to the theatre ecosystem. The early internet version of online content—my bootlegged cassette tape—didn’t replace my need for the real live show, it ignited it.

American theatre attracted 46 million attendees in 2013. A single YouTube video of the Lion King cast singing the “Circle of Life” on the subway raked in over eight million views in just two months. It sounds like a big pie, but everybody wants a piece—the venue, the actors, the technical crew, the designers, the writers, the composers, the marketing professionals, the creative team—and the list goes on.

Imagine we could actually monetize theatre that is broadcast online. Imagine a world where it’s just like buying a theatre ticket, but online. We can work with Actors Equity, the licensing companies, and writers to come up with a fair and equitable split of the online ticket sales. I’ll use the common Los Angeles example: at an innovative 99-seat theatre, actors will work for seven dollars per performance, since it’s seen as more of a showcase contract. If I’m a 99-seat producer (and I have been), and I can broadcast to thousands across America in addition to my ninety-nine seats, I can make much more from that production and adhere to my mission of getting my show seen. When that revenue comes in from online sales, I can distribute that to my actors long after the show closes, much like the residual model for TV actors. Now that I’ve made more money by broadcasting online, I feel bolder. I know that people in Iowa or Missouri can log on and pay to view my show, and I can make my money back faster. With more money in hand, I don’t have to wait as long to produce another show. I can take a risk on a weirder, less popular show, now that I’m not depending only on people within the four walls of my theatre. I can go back to pushing the artistic envelope and paying my actors a living wage where we all make money together.

Right now, the vast majority of Equity contracts prohibit filming. But, what if filming and broadcasting in a way that guaranteed online sales actually created more work for actors? And what if that work was more and more interesting because producers could take broader artistic risks? As long as Actors Equity can hold the producers accountable for distributing a fair percentage of that revenue to actors (perhaps basing it on the fifteen–twenty percent of revenues from the Cast Recording contract), this is in the best interest of their members. Otherwise, they risk producers simply using non-Equity actors and still getting the benefits of online broadcasting. Let’s take a lesson from SAG-AFTRA and adopt the concept of the residual. The sooner we as a theatre community embrace the digital revolution, the quicker we can get our beloved theatre industry back on track.

As theatre artists, many of us have been conditioned to believe that money is a dirty word, and that if we don’t struggle, it isn’t art. We’ve been struggling enough. We have a choice: either we’re Tower Records, or we’re iTunes. We are at a critical moment in theatre’s history, and we can choose whether we sink or swim. If we swim, if we adapt, if we embrace technology, we can get back to the joy of theatre.

Let’s develop a contract rider with Actors Equity that allows filming and guarantees an appropriate share of proceeds from online revenue gets back to actors. Let’s quit arguing over who gets a tiny slice of the existing pie. It’s time to make the pie bigger by broadcasting theatre online, and bringing theatre into the digital age. If we engage the unions and the licensing companies, we can work together to make theatre commercially viable and globally accessible. More resources means more art, and that’s something we can all stand behind.

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Interesting read. Its really nice to see this conversation happening. Each movie is different and calls for the producer to make the choice how best to distribute their production. Therefore, the marketplace needs to be as diverse to give appropriate support the show. This is where technology comes into play. Of recent few entertainment marketers have been looking to leverage beacons and hyperlocal mobile technology to upsell to moviegoers, drive ticket sales among mall shoppers and boost customer loyalty programs. We have discussed about how cinemas can use iBeacon technology to bring back the thrill to the movie-going experience here: http://blog.beaconstac.com/...

I feel as though this entire article was lifted from a comment I made months ago on another article here.

First off, the elitist theater commentators on this thread could not be more wrong about the industry they love so much. You sound no different than the people who said the horseless carriage was a fad. Quit being afraid of change.

Secondly, I agree with the vast majority of your premise. People who live outside of the NYC market often miss the opportunity to see shows that close quickly, or original casts, simply because of where they live. If they had an outlet to see the shows this would in no way effect the people living in NYC or visiting it, because they would go anyway. Broadway is now a destination spot much more so than a place where New Yorker's frequent.

Thanks for the passionate article. Nice to see this conversation happening. As you observed Theater is already in the digital age, just not in America. Although, we have been since radio days through pay per view. Traditionally, we have always been late adapters to any technology, and exhibiting content online has proven no different. Aspects of your argument is fundamentally sound. Yes, there is (some) union resistance, and there is philosophical trepidations by producers and consumers alike in distributing digital theater. But these have been overcome before (See Memphis, Legally Blonde, etc.) and are currently being done in all strata of codes and agreements on both free and monitized plaforms. While online marketplaces do exists on platforms, such as digitaltheatre.com for streamed captured performances, the likes of amazon.com for DVD purchase of captured performances of from Broadway Theater Archive, the real online marketplace is, well, online. The web itself is the platform. Each producer needs to make the choice how best to distribute their production. Content is king, and every show is different. Therefore, the marketplace needs to be as diverse to give appropriate support the show.

Specifically addressing the use of making money using the 99 seat/showcase code is a false argument in principle. These were not created for producers as a business model. They were created for actors to "showcase" their work. Also, there is nothing that prohibits producers paying actors in LA or NYC more than the $7 or travel stipend per call. The frustration is understandable that no one is making a living creating work under these codes, so it is natural to look beyond it to a digital medium for possible revenue for the production and income for the company members. It costs thousands of dollars (to various degrees) to live stream and capture a quality production. If you are only interested in "getting your show seen" you can do it for less, but the quality will also be less. Still, would not your actors/company members on the 99 seat/showcase plan benefit more from receiving that money put toward broadcasting the showcase? After all, the play is the thing. Why should they subsidize the production in the hope of some type of minute residual - because it will be minute and become more so as the tail gets longer. It will not be a livable wage, and you can't eat or pay your rent with the fact you gave people access. Although you can have a great sense of artistic pride in the achievement. If the producer is not committed to paying a livable wage for the work done onstage, how can AEA or any union get behind supplementing their income with residuals on a digital one?

This is why it is important the company needs to be making a salary from operating under an agreement, as opposed to a code. Digital theater is not a financial savior, as of yet, but it can connect people to your work that are geographically displaced. I absolutely do encourage the effort. For an equitable playing field for you and others working on showcase level, the SAG-AFTRA new media agreement covers a lot of what you propose as far as residual structure for low budget theater type productions. There is precedent for it being used in the past, and no doubt will serve others in the future. As far as AEA, they do have rules in place that can be applied for digital streaming (see Rule 39 of the Production Contract), and have also allowed it in varies degrees in the past. Like I mentioned earlier, they are slow adapters, but it will happen again. It will just take time, and someone to do it well that will open up the door for a precedent to be set.

Thanks for the passionate article. Nice to see this conversation happening. As you observed Theater is already in the digital age, just not in America. Although, we have been since radio days through pay per view. Traditionally, we have always been late adapters to any technology, and exhibiting content online has proven no different. Aspects of your argument is fundamentally sound. Yes, there is (some) union resistance, and there is philosophical trepidations by producers and consumers alike in distributing digital theater. But these have been overcome before (See Memphis, Legally Blonde, etc.) and are currently being done in all strata of codes and agreements on both free and monitized plaforms. While online marketplaces do exists on platforms, such as digitaltheatre.com for streamed captured performances, the likes of amazon.com for DVD purchase of captured performances of from Broadway Theater Archive, the real online marketplace is, well, online. The web itself is the platform. Each producer needs to make the choice how best to distribute their production. Content is king, and every show is different. Therefore, the marketplace needs to be as diverse to give appropriate support the show.

Specifically addressing the use of making money using the 99 seat/showcase code is a false argument in principle. These were not created for producers as a business model. They were created for actors to "showcase" their work. Also, there is nothing that prohibits producers paying actors in LA or NYC more than the $7 or travel stipend per call. The frustration is understandable that no one is making a living creating work under these codes, so it is natural to look beyond it to a digital medium for possible revenue for the production and income for the company members. It costs thousands of dollars (to various degrees) to live stream and capture a quality production. If you are only interested in "getting your show seen" you can do it for less, but the quality will also be less. Still, would not your actors/company members on the 99 seat/showcase plan benefit more from receiving that money put toward broadcasting the showcase? After all, the play is the thing. Why should they subsidize the production in the hope of some type of minute residual - because it will be minute and become more so as the tail gets longer. It will not be a livable wage, and you can't eat or pay your rent with the fact you gave people access. Although you can have a great sense of artistic pride in the achievement. If the producer is not committed to paying a livable wage for the work done onstage, how can AEA or any union get behind supplementing their income with residuals on a digital one?

This is why it is important the company needs to be making a salary from operating under an agreement, as opposed to a code. Digital theater is not a financial savior, as of yet, but it can connect people to your work that are geographically displaced. I absolutely do encourage the effort. For an equitable playing field for you and others working on showcase level, the SAG-AFTRA new media agreement covers a lot of what you propose as far as residual structure for low budget theater type productions. There is precedent for it being used in the past, and no doubt will serve others in the future. As far as AEA, they do have rules in place that can be applied for digital streaming (see Rule 39 of the Production Contract), and have also allowed it in varies degrees in the past. Like I mentioned earlier, they are slow adapters, but it will happen again. It will just take time, and someone to do it well that will open up the door for a precedent to be set.

Haha! This is the most ridiculous idea ever. Another example of wanting to screw the actors and the creative teams. If you want to broadcast something, get into tv and film and leave live theatre alone. I participated in a Live From Lincoln Center broadcast a few years ago. Lots of meetings promising strict protections and proper compensation. Please! The whole thing has been bootlegged and on YouTube for years. It's all BS.

Actually, if you read the article carefully, I'm calling for a collaboration with stakeholders to make sure we can move to this model in a way that is equitable for theater makers AND helps to build an audience. If people watch theater on YouTube anyway, shouldn't they at least have a way to do it where the artists can be compensated and where the theaters can use that as a way to build an audience?

To quote Andrew Keen (actually the title of his book), "The Internet is not the Answer." In fact, as he points out, it is destroying most of the institutions we hold dear, including those that separate us from (and protect us from) totalitarianism... including (I would add) theatre.

For as Keen points out, the internet age has made copies (of music or movies) worthless. (One of the fundamental flaws of Jeni Incontro's essay is her assumption that most people will pay to view a performance online, when it is clear that 99% will find a way to do it for free.)

But at the same time, Keen points out that the internet age has increased the value that people place in in-person gatherings.

But if so many theater people keep on insisting that there is little difference between watching theater in person (which I love) or watching it on video (which I can't stand), then theater will indeed die.

I didn't even watch NBC's "The Sound of Music" (much less "Peter Pan"), and was shocked that so many theater-did. It means nothing to me that what I'm watching on TV is "live" (actually a five second delay) rather than a video recording hours (or days or months) later. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO TECHNICAL DIFFERENCE between watching something on TV "live" or hours/days later. If you think there is you have simply bought into into the hype.

Whereas there is a tremendous difference between watching a play (whether musical or straight) in person versus watching a video recording. A video controls exactly what you are watching each second, whereas in person you can focus on whatever you want to -- for instance, a tertiary character's reaction to the primary dialog in the scene. (One of the reasons for seeing a production more than once. Whereas a video is exactly the same each time.)

Furthermore, the only way to see something truly in 3-D (which adds a certain visceral realism to the drama) is in person. Even so-called 3-D movies aren't really 3-D (which is why you need special glasses... that control exactly what you look at!).

The bottom line is: resist the urge to buy into the siren song of technology. Instead concentrate on producing the best plays and productions. That is the only way theater will be saved.

[I haven't read the other 11 comments yet... going to go do so now.]

[

Reading the other comments reminded me that we already know what happens when you try to make money off of recording/transmitting theater: The inanity of most 3-camera sitcoms.

I remember Laura Metcalf talking at Steppenwolf many years ago about the tremendous difference between doing theater and doing sitcoms. The latter involved introducing the actors to the audience before the recording, providing jugglers or other entertainment before and during the (lengthy) set changes, and often re-doing scenes when someone made a mistake or it just wasn't quite right.

The bottom line: the studio audience (which didn't have to pay a cent for their tickets!) was "in on it" -- that is, part of the show, there to provide realistic-sounding laughter and applause (and occasional gasps and so forth), whereas the REAL audience was the home TV viewer.

Is this what we want theater to turn into? If you think you can make significant money off of recording theater without it turning into this sort of thing you are kidding yourself. For once the goal becomes to make more money off of the recording than the live audience, the quality of the recording, not the live experience, will become paramount.

P.S. I'm not saying there having been some good 3-camera sitcomes over the years, such as the original Dick Van Dyke show (shot on B&W film) and early "Family Ties". But I think most of us would agree that virtually all other sitcoms were pretty inane. Which is one of the reason that those in the 90's (or beyond) who wanted to do a quality half-hour comedy elected to do it film (single-camera) style.

Wouldn't it be ironic if theater-people were the ones to bring back the inanity of the multi-camera sitcom?

We live in a time when technology is almost considered a god. But as useful as technology can be in some ways, we must assure that it doesn't become the devil that destroys all that is good -- including live theater.

P.P.S. As I've said before, the way to save theater is to:

1) Choose plays based on merit, not the pedigree ("He/she went to [well known university]!"), gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation of the playwright;

2) Work to restore a robust economy so more people can afford to go to theater. The biggest thing would be to stop letting politicians get us into extremely destructive, expensive, and counter-productive wars overseas, simply because some country supposedly has "weapons of mass destruction" ([Bush/Cheney/Rice - Iraq) or are trying to build one (Obama/HRC/most republicans - Iran).

(And this means not just overt war, but no sanctions [an act of war] either -- the ones against Iraq in the lead-up to that war cost the lives of a half a million children! [To which Madeline Albright replied, when asked if it was worth it, "yes".)

Hi Neal - I hear what you're saying. And for a lot of people, they simply won't want to watch theater online. But, there are a lot of people who will. Where I disagree is that this will kill theater. I believe it will help ignite it. If I'm producing experimental work, the likelihood of finding an engaged audience to sustain the piece is automatically limited if it is tied to a physical location. The economics right now - only being able to sell as many seats that locals (and maybe some tourists, for NYC shows) want to see - encourages theaters to produce safer and safer work. For the more esoteric pieces, giving an additional distribution mechanism would help them find a broader audience base and get their art out there to many more people who may not live in the same geographic location. It may not be right for everyone, but it should be an option available to those that believe it's right for them.

Actually, movies aren't a good comparison as there's no live element. People listen to music at home and not only doesn't that stop them from seeing it live, it makes them more likely to seek out that artist live when nearby. I think theatre falls into the same category. I remember seeing The Gospel At Colonus on PBS in Los Angeles and when they mentioned it was playing downtown I grabbed 4 friends and we all went to see it live the following night.

You hit the nail on the head, LaPan. I believe that especially when you consume recorded media that was intended to be live, the audience gets it. It's why people buy concert tickets! We crave the magic and the energy of a live environment. But being able to check out a theater company's work online will eliminate the barriers to entry for a lot of potential theatergoers. They can check out a production before they visit a city, they can see if they would be interested in buying season tickets, and it provides a way to keep shows alive long after they officially close.

While I agree about the Equity rules (wouldn't all filming of a play be the province of SAG anyway?) my take on this is a little different. Thanks to Netflix and blurays and home theatres, I have no desire to go to the movie theatre anymore. If I'm leaving the house for entertainment, it's for live theatre or music.

If I can get theatre at home (live or recorded), how much would I really watch? For starters, it's incredibly difficult to translate a stage show onto film. You almost have to design the space and the production around recording the way live television is. Nothing wrong with that, but then what's the difference between that and television? And even if you do get a good recording, you're now just competing against the hundreds of television channels and all the movies in the world. It seems like the niche it would fill is too small to make it profitable.

It's the live part of theatre that makes it special. It's a reason to leave the house. People don't want to sit at home all the time watching Netflix. How can we make sure that when they do go out for entertainment, it's to see theatre? How can the internet help with that?

Octagaon, ultimately I don't think the scenario with theater will be the same as with film. The movies were never live or interactive. So watching them on a small screen at home verses a big one at a cineplex is merely a matter of scale. Whereas theater, as you also noted, is explicitly live and the audience's presence changes the show nightly. As a part of our digital distribution we would need advertise that fact, of course, and make that a part of the conscious and constant message. As for filming theater effectively for television, PBS has been doing it for years and years and now On The Boards in Seattle is also doing it rather effectively -- currently with only non-union productions. I've actually purchased from OTB downloads of productions I've seen live, in addition to productions I've not seen live. And of the latter I'd still be curious to see them live if I get a chance.

It could work. Just needs some thought and planning, and buy-in from the national theater making community. That it's complicated -- and it is -- should't scare us. Nor do we need to go into it thinking EVERY production should be made digitally available. Just some, to get people excited to then go see theater LIVE.

Too big a topic for any comment left on a website, of course. On and up!

I obviously believe that it can (and should) work. For some people, watching online won't be their cup of tea, and that's ok. But, if we as a community are trying to expand our audience base and get people more engaged, we've got to find another distribution mechanism. It's complicated, it's tough, but so is theater. We've never been a group to shy away from things when the going gets touch, and we should be charging ahead with this.

Okay, but if the actual aim is to develop content that people can watch at home, then it isn't theater. It's film. It's a different medium entirely. Why try to do theater as film when films made explicitly to be FILMS will always be better, sharper, more impressive. Rather than trying to be what it isn't, theater needs to remember what it is that makes it unique and embrace that more fully.

You make very good points. I've also been pursuing this idea for a long time, but have run into the same snags. one karge one being Actors Equity rules. Independent theater producers have faced the problem of the outdated and restrictive codes from AEA for a while now. Working with nonunion actors provides some relief, but if we were to put full productions online, we could, as you suggest, pay them better. I'd love to pay my actors what they deserve. But it's very difficult to get a good video recording in most black box theatres. The cost of a three camera shoot, if it were even possible in small rooms full of audience, is prohibitive. I'm thinking of setting up a space where the digital recording of the show, or even live-streaming, were built into the plan, with high ceilings and mounts for cameras already established. I recently watched An Iliad, taped at The Public, and it was designed for a broadcast audience, even though it was also live theater, and it lost NOTHING of the excitement of the original production. I watched it twice. I think it's resistance to change that is our major hurdle.

I completely agree, Cheryl. Nothing will ever completely mimic the magic you feel live. And there's definitely resistance to change, but nothing is compulsory. It would simply be an additional option, and theaters could choose for themselves if they want to be on the forefront, or be late adopters, or even never stream online.

I strongly encourage a coordinated effort with AEA (and other unions) to find a fare and equitable way to add digital distribution to the theatrical ecosystem. I'm happy to lead the charge (there is already a discussion in Los Angeles to update the 99-seat code, which dominates the scene here). Feel free to contact me at jincontro@mystagestream.com if you're interested. I'd love more feedback and input.

Here in NYC I"m on the board of League of Independent Theater www.litny.org.wp and that is one of our main preoccupations, trying to get the Equity code updated. Here we don't even have a 99-seat code- we have to work with showcase code, which makes it difficult to impossible to get any new work produced. I will be closing my small theater, Stage Left Studio, and going on the road, starting August of this year, to see if I can discover/create a new paradigm of theater development. Maintaining a bricks and mortar business in NYC is not a smart business move, and the folly of pursuing it (not to mention the nonstop effort) make it impossible for me to continue as I have been. I'll be in LA in the fall of 2015 for a few months. Feel free to contact me too, if I can help brainstorm. stageleftstudio@gmail.com

I'm a believer. But the rights issue is larger than AEA. Playwrights too (and their agents) are very wary of "giving up" broadcast rights. It has to happen though. I've felt for years that our biggest competitor was the home theater with surround sound and flatscreen.

I can see some benefits in the right context; but it also brings back memories of "Sound of Music Live" and "Peter Pan Live" which are not the same as live theater. The big trick will be how to manage broadcasting without the authors' and theaters' losing control of the material entirely.

There's a way to do it so that theaters retain control of the creativity, which is exactly what we're doing with Stage Stream (www.mystagestream.com). It gives artists a way to maintain their artistic integrity while opening up another avenue for audience engagement and revenue. It will never be the same as live theater, and I don't think anyone is arguing that it will or should be. But, it should at the very least be a supplement to get people engaged and excited. What broadcasting theater loses in not having the audience experience it live, it gains by having more people experience it at all. And if you're doing bold, exciting work as a theater, wouldn't you want it to have a broader reach than the four walls?

I first wrote about what we can call digital transmission of "live theater" for the American Theatre Magazine May/June 2011 issue. (Perhaps ironically, it doesn't seem to be available online.) At the time, they were calling it HD transmission and both the Broadway musical Memphis and the Roundabout's production of "The Importance of Being Earnest" had been recorded live in their respective Broadway houses and were being broadcast on movie screens.

I learned then that this is a very complicated issue. For one thing, it is extremely expensive. You cite the Met Opera, but they lose money on their transmissions; they do it for publicity and education.

Second, there is a kind of philosophical issue here that people haven't really worked out, as evidence by the Howlround Twitter chat we had a few weeks ago, which I summarized in a post "Live theater in the age of screens"

http://newyorktheater.me/20...

Is it "theater," people ask, if the actors and audience don't breathe the same air?

It definitely is complicated. It's not an easy issue, and we as a community need to take care to do this in a way that nurtures the art and is equitable to the people who create it. That being said, I think you're onto something when you mention that while it may be part revenue, it's also part education and marketing. If we think of it as a way to expand audience engagement, that overall helps the art form. Also, we can learn from how the Met does it and find a way that works for theater. We don't need to stream it into movie theaters, we can stream it into peoples homes. We don't need to stream it live, it can be on-demand. This helps reduce the cost and make it more viable as a revenue stream. Great post, by the way. It's wonderful to have the Twitter conversation aggregated!

Great article. I have included the concept of filing theater productions, making them available on demand and/or sold to a cable channel in packages, in a proposal I am writing. The package I have in mind is one season of all theater productions in Rhode Island, established, emerging, and university. There are so many outstanding productions here that are seen by too few. People will still want to go for the live experience but this would give the companies a new revenue stream, including royalties for repeat shows.