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BWW Blog: Making Theatre Accessible

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The release of professionally recorded closed productions allows for a time travel of sorts.

For as long as I can remember, bootlegs have been a serious and somewhat controversial debate in the theatre community. These illegal recordings of shows are unfortunately one of the only ways theatre fans outside of New York or those whom cannot afford tickets have access to the magic of Broadway shows past and present. That could all change soon! Last week, the musical Diana, which had just begun previews on Broadway a week before the Covid-19 pandemic forced all productions in New York to shut down, announced the production will be filmed and released on Netflix. If you're a big theatre fan like me--which I'm sure you are--this is very exciting news for a couple of reasons. First, it gives the theatre community something to look forward to. Second, this is only the second professionally recorded musical to be released on a major streaming platform this year; Hamilton being the first.

I saw a pie graph on Twitter shortly after the release of Hamilton on Disney+ which summarized a survey asking if people were more or less likely to go see a live production of Hamilton once it is safe to do so. The graph showed that a majority wanted to see Hamilton in a theatre before it was released, and they still wanted to after seeing the film; another large portion of people were more likely to go see a live performance of Hamilton after seeing the film. This is very important data for producers to consider. The biggest argument against professionally filming and releasing productions has been the perceived loss of ticket revenue. However, the it appears that the data does not support the perception. Personally, viewing professional recordings of shows I am interested in further peaks my interest to see a live performance of that show in order to fully experience that show. There is nothing that can duplicate the sheer excitement of taking your seat, pouring over the playbill, hearing the orchestra warm-up, awaiting the opening of the curtain for a live performance, which many producers might discount. Another case I can make for making theatre more accessible via professional recordings is that it might minimize bootlegs and other illegal recordings. Releasing professional recordings would also provide an additional income stream through rental fees, not only for producers, but possibly for the cast, crew and musicians.

The release of professionally recorded closed productions allows for a time travel of sorts. The New York Public Library (NYPL) has been recording at least one night of productions since 1970-for 50 years! The NYPL Theatre on Film and Tape (TOFT) has the largest collection of live theatre productions in the world. Imagine watching the 1975 production of Chicago at the 46th Street Theatre, the 1990 revival of Fiddler on the Roof at the George Gershwin Theatre, or 2007 production of Spring Awakening at the Eugene O'Neill and experiencing the groundbreaking productions all from the comfort of your living room. Timeless and beloved musicals and their renowned stars inspiring a new generation of theatre patrons. All of this to say, now is the time for Theatre to broaden its accessibility to all fans and one of the ways to do this is to release professionally recorded versions of shows to streaming services such as Netflix and Disney+.

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From This Author Student Blogger: Torie Brown