BWW Blog: Bootlegs - Why They Exist and Why We Discourage Them

BWW Blog:  Bootlegs - Why They Exist and Why We Discourage Them

I must admit: I'm fairly new to the Broadway and musical theatre community, so the prospect of experiencing Tony winning shows like Wicked has been limited to the Original Broadway Cast album, repeat viewings of YouTube videos and yes - online bootlegs. Of course, the filming and subsequent distribution of cinema recordings is illegal, and extends to piracy of film online. But it never really occurred to me until recently, that watching a filmed recording of a Broadway show is actually piracy - and just really bad manners. Bootlegs shouldn't exist, but they do. It's like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They exist, but we discourage them. This is why.

Firstly, it's because people think they are doing the world a service when they illegally film a performance. Secondly, it's because a show might be sold out and people will never get to see the show in their lifetime beyond listening to the cast albums. It must be like listening to Beethoven's symphony without the last sixteen bars, or listening to Puccini's opera without the final act. Spoiler: Mimi dies. Bootlegs exist for a markedly different reason than why films are pirated, yet the act is fundamentally the same. Films are pirated because people are too lazy to pay to see them in the cinema. However with theatre bootlegs, because most performances are localised in New York City, it becomes an accessibility issue. People simply cannot afford a trip to New York to see a performance, especially if tickets sell for upwards of $1000. However, this does not justify the use or distribution of bootlegs.

And why should we discourage them? The theatre community features some of the most hardworking and law abiding citizens known to man. This is what theatre is and this is what theatre does. I say law abiding citizens because they do not deal in bootlegs. Partially because they don't have to (especially if they can just walk down the street into another show). But people in professional shows work their butts off day in and day out to bring their audience the best they can. Theatre is live and this is reflected in the atmosphere of the room. Filmed cinema tries to create this, or manifest a sense of panic in the viewer through score and camera angles. But in a theatre you are seated in the same spot and you have the same view of the theatre all night.

What makes it special is that each show is a unique performance. Actors could perform lines a slightly different way, having understood a little more about their characters. The lighting could be turned on just a second out of sync, adding new flair and flavour to the performance. Long story short, people work hard to bring their A-game. Bootlegs must be discouraged.

Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda is my idol. His music and understanding of characterisation, complexity and depth, has made his latest show my favourite of all Broadway shows. But he has also had very candid things to say about bootlegs and people using their phones during a performance. When it comes from the perspective of someone you admire, and someone who works in the theatre, it really hits home.

It's like peanut butter and jelly. The peanut butter, a deliciously salty and textured delicacy on its own. The jelly, a sweet, paste full of goodness. But together? Absolutely horrifying. If peanut butter is the show one might see on stage (and for the sake of argument let's use Hamilton), then it should be enjoyed in its intended format, peanut butter - or the revolutionary stage show about founding father Alexander Hamilton. If jelly is our mobile phone or camera, it should remain as the technology we use to document our lives and show off to other people who don't live as lavishly as we do. But peanut butter and jelly have no place together in the Broadway community.

Bootlegs are disrespectful and not to mention - illegal. Of course, the only people that watch them will be theatre people, but we need to respect the work that goes into a theatre production. It is beyond our privilege to film and distribute content from a theatre show. Everyone will just have to wait for a film version to be released, or wait for a local production to travel through your city. Keep rocking out to that cast album. Learn every riff and every high note. Sing every part and change the key. Up the tempo and create harmonies. But don't film, distribute or seek bootlegs. They hurt our community.

"I'm sorry theater only exists in one place at a time but that is also its magic. A bootleg cannot capture it. I'm grateful and glad you want to hear it, and I want you to hear it RIGHT." - Lin-Manuel Miranda

Apologies to all peanut butter and jelly enthusiasts.

What Do You Think? Tell Us In The Comments!

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K-Ci Williams K-Ci is a school-teacher-in-training from Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. In 2015, he joined Four’s Company, a local choir who will perform for DCINY in NYC's (read more...)

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