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BWW Blog: Middle of Nowhere

Why Broadway’s Accessibility Matters Even More Now

BWW Blog: Middle of Nowhere

I'm from what is so affectionately referred to as the "middle of nowhere" in Pennsylvania. It's the cold spot on the weather map, the home of the Zippo lighter, and at least two hours from any city-Erie, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland-in any direction. To preemptively answer the classic questions: no, we're not Amish, and yes, we do have traffic lights. It's beautiful and affectionate and homey out here, but it is undoubtedly isolated.

So, what's it like being a theatre fan far away from most theatre? We take it where we can get it-whether it be at school, at church, or in our community theatre. We flit between communities, part of a larger group of theatre people from the region who welcome one another into their respective community theatre organizations with open arms. We meet people from over the state border and in the next county over. We treasure every moment in rehearsal, in performance, in strike because it won't come around again for some time. We watch movies and pro-shots and bootlegs together.

If any of this sounds familiar, it's because since March 12, we have all been rural theatre fans, taking what we can get when we can get it. Suddenly, those who had wide, easy access to live theatre (especially live Broadway theatre) were cut off, and they realized what others have been saying for years: Broadway is tragically inaccessible.

Few shows have been shot professionally and released for streaming. Even fewer of those shows are widely available for streaming, instead being part of a larger subscription package. The vast majority of shows exist on Google Drive and unlisted YouTube playlists-they exist on shifting sands, though; there's no telling if your favorite show will still be on the internet in a week's time.

Hopefully, the pandemic will vastly shift the way that Broadway professionals think about the archival of their work. Back toward the beginning of the pandemic, for instance, Moulin Rouge! star Karen Olivo took to social media to ask for a bootleg of her own show. Now that these professionals are feeling the pinch that those of us far away have felt for years, there is an opportunity for them to do something radical.

Believe me, I understand all of the arguments against: the sanctity of a live performance existing in the here and now, the sticky legality of taking and distributing bootleg videos, the fact that the stage and the camera are two very different mediums that can so frequently clash. I also know that I'm one of the lucky ones. My "middle of nowhere" is still conveniently placed-I can make it to Shea's Buffalo Theater, The Benedum Center, or Playhouse Square in a reasonable amount of time. New York isn't outrageously far away. My family could afford to send me to shows.

If, even with all of these privileges, I still rely on illegal means to see shows, then what about those even further away? What about those with less money? Tickets are often prohibitively expensive, and travel even more so. Touring companies and community theatre are often recommended as the accessible alternatives for those of us in the middle of nowhere, and while they are all excellent forms of entertainment, it isn't an outlandish request for those of us unable to travel to New York to want to watch an original cast perform a show that may close before we have enough money or time to take a trip.

Live theatre is a miracle. This pandemic has taught us so. The electric energy of a performance, the chills you get during an overture, the dreamy, dazed feeling of spilling out into the lobby are why we go back again and again. But, the fact remains that live theatre has, by and large, disappeared for almost a year now. The fact remains that location-specific theatre, while an important and unique entertainment experience for those nearby, cannot reach those of us that are far away-in any and all senses of the phrase. Until Broadway has a reckoning with the ways in which it is still very much an inaccessible form of entertainment, it will always be teetering on an edge.


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From This Author Student Blogger: Sydney Emerson