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The Future Is Streaming...

What does the future of live theater look like? How is new technology changing the way theater makers interact with their audiences? Can live streaming ever replace the actual live "in person" experience? We may have seen the answer to these and other questions this past Sunday evening. The COVID-19 pandemic has had some unexpected consequences, one of them was certainly the explosion of live streaming as a way for performers to connect with their audiences while we are living through the days of physical distancing.

Picking up where he left off; and hot on the heels of the overwhelming success of his first theatrical live stream, (Irving Berlin) Hershey Felder has not let any grass grow beneath his feet. This Sunday his "Hershey Fielder's Beethoven - Live from Florence" has once again raised the bar of what a live stream can be. Using multiple cameras, several locations (within one "master location" - his home), live video insertion, and graphic overlays, Mr. Felder took his audience from our current pandemic ridden world back to 18th century Vienna, recreating the cemetery where Beethoven is buried, the salon in which he worked, even a church where we paid homage to Mozart!


If live streaming is here to stay, THIS is the way to do it. Mr. Felder's Beethoven maintained the "high-wire-act" tension of a live broadcast - where anything can and usually does go wrong - and where the high stakes are made even higher when your sets require multiple lighting and audio set ups to accommodate the various scenes - through which Mr. Felder moved seamlessly. Special kudos to Mr. Felder's long-time director Trevor Hay for transforming Joel Zwick's original stage direction and deftly and impeccably into a 3-dimensional feast for the eyes.

How do we make stories more human and interactive as technology takes over? In this performance, Mr. Felder breaks down the 4th wall, speaking directly to the remote audience as he relates this tale of a lonely genius who lived a major portion of his live in his own very private - silent - world.

The play is based on "Aus Dem Schwarzspanierhaus" by Dr. Gerhard Von Breuning, and it tells Beethoven's story through the eyes of a young boy whose father was a former close friend of the composer. As in all of Mr. Felder's shows, a healthy helping beautiful music aids in the story-telling, providing several of the "chapter-breaks" so to speak, in Beethoven's life. Felder delivers selections of some of Beethoven's greatest compositions - and not just the piano works, although the "classics" are all in there. The "Emperor Concerto" plays an important role in the story and piano reductions of the Fifth and Ninth symphonies are key milestones in the tale as well. Mr. Felder's playing is spot-on and brings into focus extraordinary irony and pain of the composer's sad plight.


The composer's life is the stuff of dreams for dramatists, a goldmine of hardships and triumphs, so it's even more critical to keep the story in balance in order to maintain the human qualities at the heart of it. This particular symmetry and pacing is where Hershey Felder the playwright excels - taking giants of the arts, giants of history, large-than-larger-than-life figures, and showing their humanity, frailty and grace.

Beethoven's early life was a horror. His father was an alcoholic, abusive monster who kept him locked in the basement between beatings. We see how, as a young man, he used music as his escape from this reality. By his mid-20's, when Beethoven began to lose his hearing, he began to change. By his 30's, when his deafness was complete, Beethoven was considered to be mentally unstable and a recluse.

As told through the eyes of young Von Breuning, Beethoven's tragic life doesn't take on melodramatic or epic proportions, but rather remains intimate and intensely personal, and this quality is was makes the show so special.

This is the kind of performance really has something for everyone - music lovers, theater lovers, lovers of history - it's all there. Moreover, the viewer comes away entertained, informed and genuinely moved - a desperately rare commodity in the theater these days (and frankly for quite a while).

Of course, all theater artists are longing for the return of live audiences, but even when the pandemic ends, it seems highly unlikely that live streaming will vanish along with the face masks. Now that audiences have gotten used to and comfortable with the intimate atmosphere that a really well-done live streamed performance can create, it's impossible to believe that it will go quietly into that goodnight.

Mr. Felder has over a dozen shows in his canon of works, and it is more than likely that we will see a great deal more of them live-streamed, for which his fans will certainly rejoice. But it is also likely that the early success of his first two live-streams will pave the way for much larger audiences for future live streams. And if they are all of this quality, they will be most welcome!

It's been said that the best way to predict the future is to invent it for yourself, and that is precisely what Mr. Felder has done; carving out his own theatrical space, creating his own theatrical genre. And there is no reason to believe that henceforth, streaming and in-person performances can't successfully co-exist as separate but connected art forms. Here's hoping we get to see a lot more of it - during and after this pandemic is over.

Peter Danish

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