Thoughts On: Live-streamed theatre

On June 30th, BroadwayHD broadcast the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of the 1963 Bock and Harnick musical She Loves Me to anybody who had paid the $9.99 fee and had a working internet connection. This stream was the first of its kind and has been very well received by those who have seen it, but it raises some interesting questions about the relationship between theatre and the internet in the near future.

There’s absolutely no reason not to watch the stream of She Loves Me. It’s a wonderful musical (one of about a dozen that is absolutely perfect in form, complete with a solid gold score) given a knockout production that showcases what Broadway musicals should be all about. But I’m slightly concerned that streaming will further alienate the straight play in the near future.

Already, musicals are almost suffocating straight plays, not just at the box office, but in the public consciousness. For example, consider the 2014 winners of the Tony Award for Best Musical and Best Play. The play, All the Way, ended up running for 131 performances, which is generally considered a healthy run for a modern straight play. The musical, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, ran for 905 performances, which is actually considered a shorter run for a musical that won said the aforementioned honor. For the public consciousness part, one need only consider Hamilton. The show is undeniably high-quality work, but it cannot compare to the shattering brilliance of The Humans, which won this year’s Tony Award for Best Play. How many of your fiends know what Hamilton is? How many know The Humans?

Now, you may be asking: what does this have to do with live-streamed theatre? Well my problem is quite simply that it may exacerbate the current problem by appealing to the masses without challenging them. It’s not uncommon for people who go to New York to see many shows to end up going to one play that they deem important enough, but if people decide to do all of their theatergoing in the comfort of their own home, what is going to challenge them to see something new and exciting? It seems unlikely that challenging plays would be streamed online, while musicals like Gypsy and She Loves Me are broadly appealing and will likely be widely viewed. What’s concerning is that there may be an even further disproportionality to what kind of the “best theatre” is represented to most.

Of course, this is all worried speculation, and hopefully BroadwayHD or another company will start to dig around to find great plays to match their musicals. Even if you can’t get large audiences to watch a live stream of Hold on to Me Darling, you’ll always get me.

Stream She Loves Me here.

 

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