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BWW Blog: From the Stage to the Screen - A Look at HAMILTON and Accessibility

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BWW Blog: From the Stage to the Screen - A Look at HAMILTON and Accessibility

If you don't live in New York or you're on a tight budget (or both), being a theatre fan can be hard. Sometimes it just isn't possible to see the latest Tony award winning show. Yes, local theatres are wonderful for seeing shows at a reasonable price, but not everyone has them close to where they live, and even if they do, it is likely that the productions they put on will be older shows. Tours are an incredible way to experience newer productions, but even then, they only go to select cities and still may be out of the average family's price range. Many theatre lovers have already acknowledged this dilemma and have come up with various ideas on how to get around it. However, in honor of the release of the Hamilton pro shot, I would like to take the time to appreciate how Hamilton has navigated the art of making theatre a little bit more accessible while still being the living art form we know and love.

Even before the film version was released, Hamilton did a few things to help more people see the show. It has run for several years on Broadway and West End and has several touring productions. Having more productions in multiple locations means more people got the chance to buy tickets, as there were fewer costs for travel involved. In addition to the show reaching more places, the ticket lotteries and the EduHam program made it more accessible for students and anyone else who couldn't afford the regular ticket price. While I know that lotteries for other shows exist, Hamilton's is certainly the most well publicized. The app makes it even easier to enter, especially for audiences looking to win tickets to one of the touring productions. While I recognize that they were able to do this because of the show's success on Broadway, and that few productions garner that kind of revenue and national attention, it is still worth acknowledging.

After four years of live performances, the Hamilton film was finally released. One of my favorite things about the film is that it is not a musical made into a movie, it's a pro shot of the actual stage musical. I think this captures the essence of the show and truly makes the musical accessible to more people. Viewers experience what it would look like on stage if they had been able to see it live. Not only to they get to see the actors, but they can also see the work of choreographers, designers, and countless other people who regularly work on the production in the theatre. None of this is possible through a cast recording alone. I think this is especially important for young theatre artists. They are able to see what is currently happening in the industry as it actually exists in the stage format. This can be incredibly important for them as they learn their craft and work on what they might be expected to do as part of their future jobs. It's also good to note that these filmed productions might be what inspires people to start doing theatre in the first place. I took classes with two Broadway actors who both said that their first exposure to theatre was watching the Cats VHS tape. There's a good chance that the Hamilton film could do the same for the next generation of creators.

There are a couple concerns about the ways in which a film might be damaging to a show. The first is the idea that if people can watch it on film, they won't be willing to pay to see it live. The jury is still out for what happens after the release of Hamilton. However, judging by the fact that the cast album has returned to the #1 spot on the iTunes chart, I would think it's safe to say that ticket sales will do just fine once live theatre comes back. The other concern is that a film cannot fully capture the experience of live theatre. Personally, I think this is absolutely correct. I was lucky enough to win the ticket lottery for the show in San Francisco, and while the Hamilton film showcased the production really well, it did not come close to capturing the atmosphere and energy of the live performance in the theatre. That being said, I think this is actually to theatre's benefit. If filmed musicals could capture that experience, live theatre would have succumbed to the film industry long ago. It's not as risky to spend money on a movie you might not like as it is to spend hundreds of dollars on a theatre ticket. But if people can see productions like Hamilton on film and actually enjoy them, the audiences for those shows will expand. And if new viewers come away craving that extra magic of a live performance, that's a good thing. They just might seek it out and become the next wave of theatregoers.

Hamilton did not solve all the problems with the accessibility of theatre. Ticket prices are still high and I'm sure the tours didn't reach everyone. Some of what they did was likely only possible because of how financially successful the show was. However, I appreciate the strides they did make, and having Hamilton on film will be beneficial for many people. More people will be able to see professional theatre and I'm sure many will fall in love with theatre because of it. While nothing can replace live theatre, giving people a taste of what it is like could increase the number of audience members and creatives alike, helping this art form thrive for generations to come.

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From This Author Student Blogger: Laura Johnson